I don’t often feature guest posts on the BeerCast, certainly not since back in the day when we were a loose collection of beery wannabes, anyway. After buying out the other BeerCasters in a series of aggressively litigious takeovers, it’s pretty much just me here, rattling around the empty corridors. However, yesterday I was DM’d by Joe Dick, Edinburgh bartender extraordinaire, who has a strong – and frontline – opinion on something I’ve not seen discussed that often to date; ‘Vaping’. Joe offered to write about Vaping in bars, from his perspective – so I could only say yes…
As part of my job as a bartender I pride myself on going above and beyond whatever the customer asks of me in the name of good service, all I ask for in return is good etiquette. This request is honoured almost every time, with the exception of a few forgotten Ps and Qs, allowing me to enjoy my job and my guests to enjoy their time in the bar. However, within the past year a new threat to this harmonious balance has appeared: a neon blue glue appears at the corner of a customer’s mouth, partnered seconds later by a white plume which is then followed by an acrid aroma, peculiar and unwelcome, that lingers in the air for minutes.
‘Vaping’ is the practice of using a battery-powered atomizer to vaporize a mixture of propylene glycol, nicotine, and a flavouring to simulate the smoking experience. Manufacturers SkyCig claim ‘the vapour released when exhaling an e-cigarette contains water, edible flavourings & emulsifiers (including propylene glycol), edible perfumes, and a small dosage of nicotine.’ They continue ‘there has not yet been a significant amount of research completed in this area specifically relating to electronic cigarettes’. They are currently completely unregulated by any legislation meaning that legally they can be used anywhere.
In 2006 Scotland took a major step in improving the health of the public by banning smoking in public places. I was only 17 at the time and can say with absolute confidence that if it were not for this Act I would never have worked in a bar and would have been loathe to spend any time in them, either. The thought of breathing in unknown, unquantified, and unwelcome compounds horrified me. The death of much loved Entertainer Roy Castle being attributed to inhaling second hand smoke terrified me. To be asked to risk death or illness from other people’s wanton selfishness in the work place was unthinkable. Yet this is something that we are now beginning to be expected to do again.
I’ve been meaning to write something like this for quite a while, but never had the time; or assumed that somebody else would first, meaning I could rest easy and just retweet it. However I had a recent bad experience with a ‘vaping’ customer that crystallised my feelings on the topic. Whilst clearing tables I noticed a ‘vaping’ device on the guest’s table, I politely notified him of our policy that we do not allow such devices to be used in our bar, they replied with a sullen “OK.” and I assumed that was the end of the matter. Shortly after, the guest came to the bar and told me “I really enjoy this place and will never be returning due to this policy, and I hope numerous others follow suit.”
I replied saying that I was disappointed he had decided this and explained that because they have not been proven safe, look unsightly, and are far from being welcomed universally we didn’t allow them. The guest then stated that “for years I loved going to the pub, having a smoke and a read, the government took that away from me, so now I enjoy doing this instead. I’d still smoke in bars if it were legal.” I then told the guest that ‘I do not believe I should have to breathe in these potentially hazardous chemicals in my workplace’, this didn’t seem to concern the guest who retorted “Vaping releases the same output as a cup of coffee,” and considered the matter closed.
The thing that really annoyed me, to the point of actually writing this article, was the guest’s absolute indifference to polluting the atmosphere that other people breathe. It has been universally proven that inhaling smoke (directly or indirectly) from cigarettes is fatal, yet this guest would willingly still force that upon other people, as if it were a right.
This attitude is prevalent amongst the ‘vapers’ that I have informed of our bar’s policy. As a rough estimate somewhere around 2% of them asked beforehand whether it was OK to use their devices in the bar. This means that roughly 98% of the ‘vapers’ that I’ve dealt with in my job felt it was totally acceptable to release vapours that are unknown even to the manufacturers. This statistic (albeit extremely rough) represents an absolute collapse of etiquette.
The effects are not only limited to the potentially hazardous chemicals. Releasing such strong aromas is also impolite, the aroma of any food or drink being consumed nearby will now be tinged for the next couple of minutes by whatever flavour said ‘vaper’ is using. In my experience the majority of these people use this bizarre Vanilla flavour that sits heavy in the air, and that in my opinion is even perceptible on the tongue. Even if it these devices were to be proved safe I would still advocate a policy prohibiting their use in the bar because of the way the aromas effect other guests flavour experiences.
Additionally it is my opinion that it is unsightly to see smoke/vapour/pretend smoke blasting from somebody’s mouth, or in the rare but notable cases of such a dullard wanting to show off smoke rings being cascaded around the bar. Let it be noted that I am not ignorant to the fact that these are supposed to be used to replace and eventually eradicate a smoking habit. I am rather sceptical of this fact though. Due to their sale, manufacture, and use all being unregulated it remains dubious that they can be trusted to perform in this way, it is reported that nictoine levels and other contents of other harmful volatiles vary widely.
Health issues aside, this is an issue about etiquette. How we behave in bars, towards staff and other patrons, is of critical importance. It is unacceptable to butt in and pollute the conversations of others. It is certainly unacceptable to wander around adding unknown entities to other people’s drinks. I believe that it is also unacceptable to alter the atmosphere that other patrons and staff have to breathe to survive, and thus argue that ‘vaping’ be banned from bars, restaurants and other public places.
Now, I’m also a life-long non-smoker – and being a couple of years (at most) older than Joe, remember well going to below street-level pubs and wading through the fug to the bar. But my Dad can remember the days when everyone smoked at their desks, at work. You may well too; the idea of someone next to me in the open plan sparking up just seems crazy – but there you go. Will ‘Vaping’ go the same way? Or will it become the more socially acceptable face of smoking, if it isn’t already? And, most importantly, what about Vaping in bars – are bartenders like our Joe entitled to a vape-free workplace?
Only yesterday, the Scotsman published this article relating to an upcoming BMA Scotland Conference, at which the issue of an e-cigarette public ban will be debated…