I think I’m a bit slow.
A year back, I came across a new kind of lighter in my local tobacconist. Most lighters produce a yellow flame. But this one produced a thin blue blowtorch flame.
I thought it was real cool, so I bought one, even though it was five times the price of the cheap ones I usually buy. I bought it in part because it seemed to be very well-engineered, and had a silky action, and I felt that maybe it would last longer than they usually did.
I figured that it was probably for pipe smokers, because you could point the blowtorch blue flame downwards as well as upwards.
And that was maybe why I found it difficult to use. The bowl of a pipe is about 6 inches (maybe more) from your eyes, and it’s easy to see what you’re doing with a match or a lighter. But a cigarette’s tip is only 2 or 3 inches away. Less if it’s one of my roll-ups which has gone out, but still has half an inch of smokeable tobacco in it. Because the blue flame is quite hard to see, and also creates a very strongly directional heat flow. If the blue flame is pointing at you, you feel it immediately.
The result is that I’ve singed my eyebrows several times with it, and burnt my nose a couple of times as well.
And apart from that, it ate butane gas at two or three times the rate of my other butane lighters.
So, after using it for a while, I went back to using my old lighters – if only to give my nose a chance to heal, and my eyebrows a chance to regrow. Although the effect of strong heat on eyebrows often seems to be to make them curly.
About 6 months back, I came across another one of the new lighters, only slimmer and rather cheaper than my first ones. So I bought one of them too.
And went through much the same experience with that one, except that the flame was a bit smaller and it used up less gas, and I only burnt my nose and eyebrows once or twice with it.
Still, I didn’t use it much, and it soon fell largely out of use.
Then a week back, I came across another, much cheaper version of the new-style lighters. The first two had been all metal, but this one was transparent, like many of my normal lighters. So I bought one of them as well. But left it in my shopping bag, because I didn’t feel like starting to burn my nose with it just yet.
But when I was sitting in a pub garden a day or two back, with one of my usual yellow-flame lighters, and it wouldn’t light – not because it had run out of gas, but because it was too breezy in the wake of the biggest storm in 30 years -, I remembered I’d got a new blue-flame lighter in my bag. So I dug around in the bottom of it, and fished it out. And it lit no trouble.
And it was only then that the penny finally dropped. These new-fangled blue-flame lighters were for use outside. With more and more people smoking outside, the old lighters just couldn’t hack it any more. And so a demand has arisen for a lighter that would stay alight in a full gale. There was nothing ‘cool’ about them at all. They were eminently practical. And that’s why people were buying them. And it was why I’d seen, in the space of a year, a rapid evolution of them, and a 70% price drop.
It had taken me over year to figure it out. Which is why I think I’m a bit slow.
Oddly enough, if cigarettes became popular in WWI, it was probably for the exact same reason. After all, if you’re stuck in a trench in a howling gale, it must be next to impossible to fill a pipe with tobacco, tamp it down, and light it with a match. It takes too long. Additionally, if it’s raining, the bowl of the pipe will fill with water, which won’t exactly help either. So the cigarette was probably designed primarily for outdoor use. You might say that cigars were too.
So, in a perverse way, the smoking bans that have driven smokers outside have put the cigarette back in its original element.
It was just that, after WWI, the cigarettes the soldiers had been smoking in the trenches found their way indoors. And because they were so quick and easy to fire up, they’d be smoked rapidly, one after another, at a far greater rate than any pipe smoker could manage. So I’d guess that, after WWI, bars which had always been a bit smoky got much smokier. And tobacco consumption rose. Particularly when women started smoking them too. And that was when antismokers started noticing, and complaining, and hunting around for any old excuse to ban them.
Anyway, I think the new blue-flame lighters are a great innovation. And they’re also an example of how prohibition makes drugs (and in this case, lighters) more powerful – much like Prohibition in America resulted in the production of much more easily-transportable distilled liquor.
And the same thing will probably happen with cigarettes. I’ve noticed in recent years that quite a few people step outside their workplaces, light up a cigarette, and then throw it away after two or three puffs. Which is one heck of a waste. So there’s probably a demand out there for a cigarette that can deliver a hit of two or three puffs.
Some people will probably say that e-cigs are the new cigarette, because they deliver a concentrated nicotine dose. But I don’t think so. I’m with Lauren Colby (who I’m very sad to learn died earlier this year, aged 81) in the view that the active ingredient of cigarettes is smoke. And so I think that coming down the track is a new high-power (nicotine-enhanced) microcigarette which will be about 10 or 20 times quicker to smoke than an ordinary cigarette (about 10 minutes?). It’ll maybe just be about ten times smaller than a current cigarette. It’ll almost certainly come with a plastic filter-cum-mouthpiece, and have a thin barrel less than half the length of a current cigarette (see right). I think the tip will have to be longer than normal cigarettes, firstly to allow the smoke to cool quicker, and secondly to avoid the burnt nose problem. And you won’t buy them in 20s, but in 100s. And they’ll probably need a new lighter, because a normal lighter would probably burn the first quarter inch off immediately. You’d need one a bit like a car electric lighter, only with a much smaller element which will reach a high temperature much faster (car lighters used to take about a minute). Maybe the tips of the microtabs would also have a lower ignition temperature as well.
They’d change the way people smoked. You could smoke one in the time it took to walk from the door to your car parked outside. Or from a shop doorway to a bus stop. Or in your antismoking mother-in-law’s bathroom, because they’d produce 10 times less smoke than current cigarettes. They’d be perfect for anyone who just wanted a quick puff. And they’d be easy to transport (and therefore smuggle), particularly without their mouthpieces (which might come separately anyway). And when they eventually found their way into bars and restaurants (as of course they would), the places would be even smokier than ever before. And of course they’d be just the right size for chiiiiildren!
There’s probably a research lab in China or someplace where they’re being perfected right now. And when you buy tobacco in the fairly near future, you’ll probably be buying easily-smuggled, cheap (i.e. untaxed), high quality, high strength microtabs.