Top London restaurateurs have said diners puffing on electronic cigarette should go outside for their “smoke” after seeing a surge in the number of customers using them.
The battery operated devices are not covered by the 2007 ban on cigarette and cigar smoking in public places and are increasingly popular in London’s restaurants and bars. Users exhale an odourless nicotine vapour that looks like smoke but does not contain toxins such as tar found in real tobacco fumes.
Simon Mullins, co-founder of the Salt Yard group of tapas bars, said: “I think the ban on smoking indoors in public was a good thing and long overdue when it came into force over five years ago.
“Since then smokers have got used to having to take it outside and that’s where I think e-smokers should take it too. E-cigarettes might be odourless but – and I’m a smoker – they’re certainly off-putting when you’ve got someone sat at a table next to you puffing away whilst you’re trying to enjoy your meal.
“Cigarette smokers have had to deal with going outside to smoke, so why therefore can’t e-smokers too?”
Bruce Poole, chef-proprietor of Michelin starred Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, said he had even considered banning them.
He said: “We weren’t particularly happy about this when it happened for the first time quite recently, because [the e-cigarette] looked real and even gave off an admittedly odourless vapour. We chose to do nothing but it caused a few raised eyebrows’.
Jacob Kenedy, chef and co-owner of Soho Italian Bocca di Lupo, said: ” Professionally I suppose there is a certain irreverence in smoking an e-cigarette in a location where real cigarettes are forbidden. When someone shows that lack of respect to my establishment, I don’t mind in the least – as an Italian imposter, what can I do but smile any time someone bends the rules a little. However, they are also giving an e-middle finger to their fellow diners.
“In my opinion it is safe to assume that most restaurant customers prefer to be in a non-smoking environment, and as such it isn’t the letter of the law that should be followed but its spirit. Out of consideration to others, e-cigarette smokers should choose to smoke only where smoking is permitted.”
Catherine Hanly, co-founder of the Hot Dinners restaurant website said: ”It feels like a retrograde step, it was lovely to be in a restaurant where no-one was smoking and now it seems a bit odd.”
There were estimated to be around 700,000 e-cigarette users in Britain in 2012 and the total is expected to pass the one million mark by the end of this year.
They were invented in China in 2003 for people who want to give up the habit the experience of smoking without the long-term damage to health.
Although e-cigarettes are not banned restaurateurs would be within their rights to ask a diner to stop if another customer complained.
But restaurant entrepreneur Mike Gottlieb said he had not yet heard of any negative comments about “e-smokers.” He said: ”Besides looking foolish as if they’ve got a sign over them saying “I’m an addict” they don’t seem to disturb anyone else.”
The French government said earlier this year that it might become the first country to include e-cigarettes in the public smoking ban after evidence suggested the chemicals in the liquid migfht have harmful side-effects.
But Michel Roux Jr, owner of the two Michelin starred Gavroche restaurant, said: “There is no legislation as yet I believe (in Britain) and so this leaves it to restaurant owners to make their own rules. As long as there is no smell, smoke or discomfort for other dinners then I do not see there being any issue.”