SCHOOLCHILDREN are using e-cigarettes (e-cigs) and vape. It is a fact.
A whopping 36.9% of them started using e-cigs and vape between ages 14 and 15, a first-of-its-kind study by the Health Ministry recently found.
And more than three-quarters of them are either taking in nicotine or are unsure if the liquids contain the addictive chemical, reveals the Tobacco and E-cigarette Survey among Malaysian Adolescents 2016 (Tecma).
Although many adolescents say e-cigs and vape are as harmful as smoking, a third of current users do it two to five times daily.
Published on the Health Ministry’s Institute for Public Health portal on Feb 21, Tecma is the first national study to get the latest information on tobacco, e-cigarette and vape usage among Malaysians aged between 10 and 19. A total of 14,833 students from 138 schools in 15 states were surveyed.
The ministry defines devices that contain nicotine as electronic cigarette, or e-cig, and those without as vape, or vaping.
Last week, Sunday Star highlighted how more than half of these young survey participants got their smokes easily from supermarkets, grocery stores and roadside stalls. The findings are no less grim with e-cigs and vape.
Shockingly, 53.2% of users were not stopped from buying the devices and liquids despite being pupils or students.
Industry pioneers are slamming irresponsible businesses for selling these items to minors.
Vape Empire CEO Zac Ho enforces a strict rule against selling to underage kids at all of its 50 outlets nationwide.
Anyone suspected of being below 18 is asked for their identity cards to verify their age. Those underage are always turned away, he says.
Vaporizer Convention Kuala Lumpur 2017 president Ibrahim Mohamed feels it is mostly individuals who are spoiling the industry’s reputation.
The convention to be held on March 31 features 167 vendors from 16 countries.
Those below 18 will not be allowed in without adult supervision and any participant who sells to minors will be asked to leave immediately, he assures.
“These immoral and unethical sellers are taking advantage of minors. Proper shops won’t do this. If I see anyone selling to students, I’ll report them to the authorities. Such shops must be shut down.”
Universiti Malaya nicotine addiction specialist Assoc Prof Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin believes there is a “high possibility” of e-cig and vape users moving on to cigarettes.
It’s been his concern all along.
Two years ago, he had warned that unregulated vaping would create a population of nicotine and drug addicts among non-smokers. He explained to Sunday Star that with vapour mimicking smoke, it’s tough to explain the difference between e-cigs, vape and smoking, to impressionable youths.
Dr Amer Siddiq, who is also a consultant psychiatrist, argues: “Contrary to what some quarters are saying about how e-cigs or vape are being used to help smokers quit, our youth aren’t using it for that purpose.
“They’re experimenting. The risk of switching to cigarettes is there. It has happened. The control of nicotine especially, has to be highly regulated because of its addictive properties.”
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon has since assured the people that a ministry meeting would be held to discuss the Tecma results.
Senior consultant chest physician Prof Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Muttalif, a former director of the Kuala Lumpur Hospital Institute of Respiratory Medicine, and chairman of the Health Ministry’s technical committee tasked with studying the health effects of e-cigs and shisha smoking, says all stakeholders have a role in keeping such devices out of schools. Both the education and health ministries must reach out to students together.
“We must go to schools. And parents must be aware that e-cigs and vape are no different from tobacco products and cannot be sold to those under 18. We must ‘de-normalise’ smoking.
“Although the Health Ministry cannot confiscate non-nicotine products, checks must be conducted to stop the sale of such products to adolescents. Even without nicotine, vape is a starting point to picking up the habit eventually.”
Since 2015, the Consumers Association of Penang’s (CAP) has called for a ban on e-cigs and vape after its survey of eight primary and secondary schools in Penang found 150 regular users among the students.
When the results were announced, e-cig and vape proponents insisted that the devices were only being sold to adults, CAP education officer N.V. Subbarow, who works closely with schools and teachers, recalls.
“This national survey proves that we were right all along. Now, the problem has gotten worse. CAP does weekly visits to conduct anti-smoking talks.
“Teachers tell me they’ve been busy confiscating these e-cig and vape devices, but students can easily get them outside.”
In December last year, the Cabinet tasked the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry, Health Ministry and Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, to jointly regulate the industry. A new law controlling e-cigs and vape is expected by next year.
Subbarow thinks it is too long a wait for a pressing problem that involves kids as young as 10. That’s why CAP wants a ban, he adds.
Echoing CAP’s call, Malaysian Association of Adolescent Health president Dr Mymoon Alias had in January, urged the Health Ministry to take aggressive steps to protect our youth from the harmful effects of using e-cigs or vape, by implementing a complete ban on the manufacturing, distribution and marketing, of the devices.
The health and well-being of our nation’s young people depend on the actions we decide to take today, she stressed in a letter to The Star.
The use of nicotine products, including e-cigs, are creating a new generation who are at risk of nicotine addiction and toxicity, she wrote, pointing out how adolescents are physiologically more vulnerable to addiction. The e-cig aerosol is not harmless ‘water vapour’ as claimed by some, she warned.