Hugo Rifkind Hugo Rifkind

Vaping’s appeal isn’t about the nicotine. It’s about the gadgets

This is a way of having drugs paraphenalia without the risk of madness, criminality or losing your teeth

Probably you never visited the flats of middle-class student drug dealers in the 1990s, because crikey, neither did I, and look, let’s just move along. Even so, were there ever to be found a Platonic form of such a place, or, as the beer adverts might put it, If Heineken Did the Flats of 1990s Middle-Class Student Drug Dealers, then I now know precisely what such a place would look like. It would look like a vape shop.

To be more specific, it would look like the vape shop I visited a few weeks ago in north London. It was perfect down to the last detail. Paraphernalia all over the place. The main wallah — the dealer, I suppose — had dreadlocks and bohemian clothes, and the bearing of an alpha male, and almost no vocabulary whatsoever. Various other young men hovered nearby, for reasons uncertain, perhaps just hanging out. And in a shabby armchair by the stairs, as has been traditional in the premises of every posh drug dealer since the dawn of time, as you may even recall from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, there slumped the pièce de résistance: a pretty blonde girl, seemingly comatose, in an incredibly silly hat.

Had it really been 1996, I suppose I might have checked if she was OK. As it was, we were in a proper shop with Visa stickers on the windows, just across the road from Pizza Express, and it all felt a bit like performance art. One of the lurking boys, indeed, had just asked if she was OK, and the dealer bloke had said, ‘She’ll be fine in a minute, she just had too much.’ At which I nodded wryly, like everybody else — although secretly I didn’t understand what she could have had too much of, given that they only sold e–cigarettes and even if you go at those incredibly hard for ages you’ll merely end up with a small headache and a bit of a dry mouth.

Still, I wanted to fit in.

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