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So there I was, having a cigarette break outside the LGBT store where I had a part-time job in Brighton, England, when a colossal woman was suddenly in my face, coughing and fanning her nose. “Ain’tcha heard of passive smoking?” she barked in a New York accent.

Expelling twin plumes of smoke through my nostrils, I replied:

Sure, and I’m totally against it. People should buy their own damn tobacco!

Exuding aggression like a pit bull with a mouthful of hornets, she retorted, “Well, ain’tcha a wisenheimer; don’tcha know what those things will do to you?”

“Probably kill me, much like diabetes will do to you,” I snapped. I know, I know. I was angry, and as I may have mentioned, outside.

The following day something similar happened when a jogger passing the store paused to warn me of the dangers of smoking. This was a less aggressive encounter because I knew him quite well, and admired him for not only giving up what Brits call “fags” but for embarking on a fitness regime that knocked his weight down by about 20 pounds.

A fortnight later he was dead, aged 42. His heart packed it in when he ran up a flight of stairs in a hotel in Cape Town on vacation.

I was reminded of these two encounters when my friend Nigel stepped out of a bar in Benidorm, Spain, and lit a cigar. Moments later a man stormed out of the bar to complain loudly about smoke wafting into the premises.

Nigel angrily told him to mind his own business. Or better still, find somewhere else to drink. As Nigel owned the bar, he had every right to react that way.

I then told Nigel of how I came to be barred from a London pub the previous year.

Within seconds of me stepping outside All Bar One in Leicester Square to use my e-cigarette—I’d given up tobacco about four years previously—a doorman burst out of the bar like a cockerel with its tail feathers on fire, and squawked, “No smoking here, you gotta stand 12 ft away from the entrance!”

“I’m vaping, not smoking. Don’t you know the difference, you imbecile?” I growled and held my ground. That sent him into a frenzy. He screamed, “You’re barred. Leave now!”

As I had my jacket and a drink inside, I said I wasn’t leaving until I was ready to go. He tried to stop me from re-entering the bar, but as he was such a sorry excuse for a bouncer, being short and utterly out of shape, I simply elbowed him aside, went indoors, downed my overpriced whiskey in a single gulp, snatched up my gear and left. But not before blowing a huge cloud of vapor in his face.

Photo by Renz Macorol from Pexels

This caused him to do the annoying coughing and face-fanning thing. Ridiculous, because all he got was a whiff of my flavored vape juice. If remember correctly, that night it was coffee and doughnuts. What’s not to like about that?

The range of flavors is enormous and growing daily as more and more people get their nicotine hits via e-cigs. Visit any vape store and you’ll find a huge choice, ranging from rhubarb and custard (ugh!), aniseed (double ugh!) to blueberry, caramel and lemon pie. I stick to menthol now, as it helps clear my sinuses.

For the record, The Royal Society for Public Health says that nicotine is non-carcinogenic and no more harmful than caffeine.

Nicotine is harmful in cigarettes largely because it is combined with other damaging chemicals such as tar and arsenic, and as a highly addictive substance getting hooked on nicotine is one of the prime reasons why people become dependent on cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes and Nicotine Replacement Therapy (gum, lozenges, and patches) contain nicotine but don’t contain the harmful substances found in cigarettes.

Another long lecture I got about tobacco came from a tenant of mine in London, a Canadian teetotaler and non-smoker who was renting a small apartment I once owned. Stuart also berated me for speeding through London traffic on a high-powered motorcycle, saying he thought I had some sort of crazy death wish.

I had to agree that each time I’d mounted my 997cc Kawasaki Tomcat I never knew whether I would reach my destination. Through no fault of my own, two earlier bikes of mine had been totaled when inattentive drivers crashed into me. But I was never injured.

Just a week before I last spoke to him, I was returning home with my dinner (take-out sweet-and-sour pork with noodles) tucked into my leather jacket when a Volvo shot out of a side street and hit my rear wheel.

Getting out of his car to check on the damage, the driver found me pinned under the bike. No bones were broken, but I was in pain because the food container had burst open and the sauce was burning my midriff. I looked up at him and yelled, “For chrissake, get me out from under the bike and unzip my jacket!”

When he did so, out poured the noodles—and he fainted.

At that point, a police car arrived, and a puzzled cop tried to make sense of the scene. I explained that the unconscious driver, bleeding from a head wound sustained when his skull hit the road, probably thought my guts had fallen out. An ambulance was sent to collect him.

A few days later, while I was at work, I received a call from the cops. I thought they were following up on the accident, but they’d called to ascertain my relationship with Stuart. When I explained he was my tenant, a constable said, “I have bad news. He’s dead.”

Stunned, I asked what happened — and learned that he’d been run over by a London bus.

Maybe fate frowns on the overcautious and favors those who take risks.

Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....

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