In a haze about vape


MANY parents and educators are ignorant of the dangerous effects vaping can have on children.

They think that vaping is safer than cigarette smoking as they frequently see it advertised on social media platforms that promote ecigarettes as “less harmful” than tobacco cigarettes, and as a quit smoking device, interviews conducted with teachers and students as part of the Universiti Malaya (UM) Nicotine Addiction Research and Collaborating Group (NARCC) HEBAT (Henti, Elak, Basmi Asap Tembakau) programme (see sidebar) revealed.

NARCC deputy coordinator and family medicine specialist Assoc Prof Dr Nur Amani Ahmad Tajuddin said these unregulated advertisements confuse and mislead parents into thinking that it is safe for their children to vape.

It’s worrying that many parents don’t stop their kids from vaping because they think ecigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes, said Dr Nur Amani, who is the author of Papa, Berhentilah Merokok.

“From HEBAT, we found out that 90% of secondary school students want smoking and vaping products banned so that they can live in a healthy environment.“Parents must be wary of and alert to social media content as these platforms are being used to irresponsibly and openly entice children and teens.

“It’s our duty to guide children by our actions and by having open discussions about the dangers of smoking and vaping,” she said.

Dr Nur Amani, who is also UM Community Engagement Centre (UMCares) deputy director, said parents, teachers and the community must work together to curb the addiction as vaping in schools is a major concern.

Community and school-based programmes are crucial in raising awareness of the harms of vaping and smoking, she said, as youths are vulnerable and easily influenced by their peers or by what they see adults do.

Their curiosity and urge to try vaping at an early age can harm their physical and mental health, she said, adding that parents who vape or smoke in the car, even when the windows are down, pose a high risk to their children as this can cause ear infection, lung infection, asthma, learning difficulties, poor growth development, attention disorders, poor school and sports performance, and sudden infant death syndrome.

Smoking and vaping have been linked to anxiety and depression among children and adolescents, which can lead to functional impairment, social problems, and drug abuse, she added.The theme for tomorrow’s World Children’s Day “Investing in our future means investing in our children” is particularly poignant in light of the escalating trend of vaping among Malaysian youths, said Dr Nur Amani.

“We should not be blinded by the decreasing trend of tobacco cigarette use because vaping is even more dangerous to the developing brain of a child.

“Children may not be aware of the amount of nicotine they are consuming in their vape liquids. Nicotine, poisonous, cancer-causing and highly addictive, is a gateway to illicit substance abuse.

“Other eliquid additives, like colouring and flavourings, sometimes disguised as ‘vitamins’ and advertised as harmless, have more than 200 chemical constituents,” she said.

As protectors of the next generation, it is the duty of parents, educators, the community and the government to equip them with knowledge, support, and the resilience to say “no” to vaping and smoking, said Dr Nur Amani.

Lawmakers, she said, must strengthen regulations of tobacco and vaping product sale to minors. The Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 must be tabled as soon as possible with strict penalties for vendors who flout the law, she added.

“Our children have easy access to ecigarettes, especially after nicotine was delisted from the Poison’s Act in April.

“Although there are notices to say that tobacco cigarettes and vaping products are only to be sold to those aged 18 and over, underaged students can get access easily as vendors rarely, if at all, ask for their identification cards.”

The Health Ministry has three days from Nov 28 to 30 to table and get the Bill passed. If this fails, the next window to table and pass the law will be when the Dewan Rakyat convenes next year.

Consumers’ Association of Penang education and anti-smoking activist N.V. Subbarow said the latest survey by the association found that in some secondary schools, the number of vapers has increased by between 40 and 100. These figures were confirmed by the discipline teachers.

“In primary school, the teachers found that the pupils who are addicted to vaping cannot stop. The schools simply don’t have the capacity to help these pupils,” he said.

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