WHILE the pro- and anti-tobacco movements are arguing over whether or not to reintroduce packs of 10 cigarettes, could we perhaps ask what the government is doing with regard to regulations for e-cigarettes?
It has been a year since the matter was raised and there has been no update thus far. Perhaps, it is time to revisit the topic of harm reduction when it comes to nicotine consumption.
Without bolstering the argument for e-cigarettes, vape devices, and even heat-not-burn devices, we have to admit that the current anti-tobacco policies are not working – half of the market is currently smoking illicit cigarettes.
In fact, that figure is actually higher among Malaysian youths, going by a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health (MOH).
Its Tobacco & E-cigarette Survey Among Malaysian Adolescents in 2016 found that 11.7% of youths surveyed were smokers.
Of this, 71.3% of young smokers bought cigarette packs for under RM9. With the minimum cigarette price of RM10, it is clear our youths are smoking illicit cigarettes.
It is also a clear reflection of the older generation of smokers as well.
I want to first make it clear that by promoting e-cigarettes, I am not promoting teens to start smoking, or even vaping for that matter. Personally, the issue of enforcement on youth smoking and vaping should be dealt with just as seriously as the illicit tobacco trade in the country.
But, at the same time, we must continue to encourage adult smokers to move away from cigarettes or at least towards lesser damaging products.
Thus, we need e-cigarettes and other such devices to be offered as a practical and effective alternative, and it must be seen not as a fear of “more smoke”, when in fact it is vapour – which is less damaging than the diesel smoke generators you find at concerts.
To that end, perhaps MOH can clarify where we have reached in terms of coming up with proper regulations for such devices?
Hopefully MOH, other relevant ministries and stakeholders have been having productive discussions to introduce sensible regulation on these alternatives to cigarettes.
After all, it would be a better topic to discuss than having a senseless and absurd discussion on whether or not 10 or 20 cigarettes in a pack can kill people faster.
Furthermore, we should also take a look at it as an opportunity for local businesses to flourish and innovate – perhaps even look to other markets where vaping and such have been established to not only reap profits, but also achieve the greatest objective of all in bettering public health.
More importantly, these alternatives can reduce smokers and subsequently reduce the number of those exposed to second-hand smoke which will, in the future, reduce the burden on our healthcare system.
To such an end, there are doctors in some countries who promote less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. Perhaps MOH can look at this as another way to encourage people to move away from cigarettes?
Meanwhile, there is nothing actually banning the introduction of e-cigarettes internationally. In fact, the anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), based in the United Kingdom, even promotes it as an alternative in their paper published in February 2016.
Also, Public Health England said two years ago that it was 95% less harmful when compared to cigarettes.
Honestly, I see nothing beneficial from this tiff over small or large packs since it does nothing to actually benefit general public health. What we need is regulations for e-cigarettes and other harm reducing products approved, not banned, if we are serious about helping people live healthier lifestyles.