Cigarettes is a novel about the rich and powerful, tracing their complicated relationships from the 1930s to the 1960s, from New York City to Upper New York State. As we have come to expect from a Harry Mathews novel, nothing is as simple as it might appear to be, but we could describe this as a story about Allen, who is married to Maud but having an affair with Elizabeth, who lives with Maud. Or say it is a story about fraud in the art world, horse racing, and sexual intrigues. Or, as one critic pointed out, compare it to a Jane Austen creation, or to an Aldous Huxley novel and be right and wrong on both counts. What one can emphatically say is that Cigarettes is a brilliant display of Harry Mathews’s ingenuity and deadly playfulness

Are e-cigarettes really a safer alternative to regular smoking? – mirror online

Cheap cigarettes – video dailymotion

Sales of e cigarettes have tripled in the past three years after they were hailed as a safer alternative to regular smoking.

But perhaps they pose a more immediate danger than lung disease and cancer. Some e cigs have exploded into flames.

Last night gran Jean Booth was fighting for life in Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, after her oxygen supply she was recovering from a hip operation was allegedly ignited by an e cig on Friday.

Barmaid Laura Baty from Richmond, North Yorks, revealed last week how one left on charge behind her bar burst into flames, set light to her dress and singed her skin.

And firefighters have been called to house fires caused by exploding electronic substitutes, including one at a nursing home in Chesterfield that left a woman dead.

Some scientists, politicians and health campaigners fear the battery powered cigarettes may undermine the smoking ban, tempt youngsters into smoking and represent a health risk in their own right.

Last summer the World Health Organisation strongly advised against using e cigs until they had been fully vetted. Spokesman Glenn Thomas said The science around the safety of e cigarettes has not been demonstrated. A lot of the toxins which are consumed through e cigarettes have not been adequately researched.

Here s the science bit. E cigs store nicotine in a solution of glycerine and water called propylene glycol. When you inhale, a heating element steams up a vapour containing addictive nicotine and you suck it in through the mouthpiece.

Ross Parry Laura Baty’s e cigarette exploding

This cuts out tobacco s many carcinogenic toxins but the nicotine itself is poisonous in high doses. A Staffordshire bull terrier called Ivy died after chewing her owner s e cig in Cornwall in February. And studies suggest nicotine stimulates a gene associated with mouth cancer.

Last week a Boston University team said they had found strikingly similar mutations in lung cells exposed to e cig vapour to those found in smokers. Author Avrum Spira said E cigarettes may be safer, but our preliminary studies suggest they may not be benign.

The first smokeless cigarette was patented by American Herbert Gilbert in 1963, but it did not take off until a version supplying a stronger nicotine hit was invented by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik in 2003. He had been inspired by his father s lung cancer death and his own addiction. Launched in the UK in 2006, they got a huge sales boost from the smoking ban and a series of anti smoking campaigns. Since 2011 the number of British users has soared from 700,000 to 2.1million.

The tobacco industry was soon involved in fulfilling this new demand. The Altria Group, parent of Marlboro company Philip Morris, is among big US tobacco firms expanding into e cigarettes.

But the health fears are not going away. This month the Welsh Assembly proposed an e cig ban in public places. Such bans already exist in US states including Utah, New Jersey and North Dakota.

Canada, Brazil, Singapore and Panama have gone even further with a total ban. One of the driving factors behind the proposed Welsh ban is that e cigarettes could be making smoking acceptable again, especially to teenagers.

Welsh health minister Mark Drakeford said I am concerned that their use in enclosed public places could normalise smoking. I want to minimise the risk of a new generation becoming addicted.

A study of youngsters using e cigs in Cheshire and Merseyside showed that 31% had never smoked before, or they had tried normal cigarettes and did not like them.

Karen Hughes of the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University, said Young people viewed e cigarettes as a product in their own right, suggesting many use them for the sake of it, for fun or to try something new.

But anti smoking charity Ash says its own research shows most smokers use e cigs to stop and they have a better success rate than other commercial quitting aids.

Chief executive Deborah Arnott said One in two smokers will die prematurely. If you are already a smoker switching to an e cigarette is much less risky.

Ash is more concerned by the lack of regulation tighter controls in the UK don t kick in until 2016 and says manufacturers should have to apply for medicines regulation which shows what is in their product and how it works.

Ms Arnott said People go and find places in China that are making them, buy them and import them here without knowing what they have got in them or what they are doing and that is a worry.

Some of these products do have carcinogens in them much lower levels than in cigarettes, but there isn t a safe level and that could be in the vapour as well. So these things should be regulated.