As I've observed many times before on these pages, a delightful feature of e-cigs is how they comprehensively disrupt the smug, cosy consensus on tobacco use and cessation. This is yet another example.
Faced with a 'former smoker', Clegg was probably anticipating a gentle lob of a question to be followed by his trotting out the usual anti-tobacco alarmism, hence the interjections "were you a heavy smoker?" and "do you feel better for it now?". But when the caller hit him with the news that the cessation aid wasn't patches, gum or cold turkey, he was flummoxed.
Before his sound bite-packed brain had scrambled to find a vapid reply in its library of non-answers, his mouth had already revealed that he didn't know what e-cigs were called, and admitted that he had little clue about what goes on at the EU!
"I certainly haven't heard of this new EU directive"Let's make this clear, we're not talking about some minor EU amendment here. The EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) has been in the making since September 2010 and is the first major directive on all aspects of manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products since 2001. The consultation received 85,000 responses, the most for any piece of proposed EU legislation ever. The Commissioner who drafted the TPD resigned in October in a blaze of publicity surrounding allegations of soliciting bribes - the first resignation within Commissioner ranks since 1999.
At the time Clegg was speaking, the one and only public hearing for this major directive was due to take place just five days later.
His party is proudly anti-tobacco; his MPs pronounce their knowledge of intricate details of tobacco policy regularly; and his MEPs have received hundreds of letters from e-cig users worried about the sections in the TPD mentioned by the radio caller, after an excellent awareness campaign by users' groups such as ECCA UK.
Yet Clegg - the Deputy bloody Prime Minister - still didn't know of its existence!
On the plus side, though, he did concede that the EU are utterly daft to be taking this course of action (I agree with Nick!) and promised to "look into it". Well sunshine, might I suggest you talk to Rebecca Taylor MEP who - as I understand it - is the Lib Dem in the EU tasked with researching this extremely dangerous and irresponsible de facto ban on e-cigs?
And if anyone else would care to send Rebecca their own anecdotal evidence and/or links to the many studies citing effectiveness of e-cigs and their complete lack of harm - to help her along, like - who am I to dissuade you? Her contact details are here.