Groups: Regulate vaping to combat youth smoking

Harm reduction call: There are concerns from certain quarters on how vaping will be marketed to the public.Harm reduction call: There are concerns from certain quarters on how vaping will be marketed to the public.

PETALING JAYA: Vaping needs to be regulated, too, to address the youth smoking epidemic, say groups concerned with how vaping will be marketed and sold to the public.

The Malaysia Society for Harm Reduction (MSHR) said vaping should be used as a harm reduction strategy and a tool for smoking cessation for smokers who fail to respond to other therapies, such as nicotine replacement therapy, and should never be for recreational use.

While there were suggestions for the government to raise the vaping age limit from 18 to 21 to curb the youth smoking problem, MSHR chairman Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh said she did not support the idea of vaping being used as a consumer product in the first place.

“If you’re a non-smoker, you should not be vaping at all, whatever your age is,” she said.

Dr Sharifa Ezat cited the government’s National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 survey, which estimated that 4.9 million Malaysians aged 15 years and older were smokers.

Out of this, an estimated 4.7 million are males.

Dr Sharifa Ezat said vape liquid must also be strictly regulated, such as having a restricted amount of nicotine and tamper-proof packaging to prevent other substances such as drugs from being added.

“The government also needs to ensure that there is no diacetyl and that only certain flavourings are allowed. There’s a risk of flavours being used as a pull factor among youths,” she said.

On May 7, the Malaysian Substance Abuse Council (Masac) suggested that the age limit for vaping be raised from 18 to 21 to minimise the abuse of vape liquids that may contain drugs.

Masac secretary-general Raja Azizan Suhaimi also said only locally manufactured vape liquids in sealed glass bottles should be allowed to be sold in the country to curb other substances from being added.

Last month, the government decided to collect excise taxes on nicotine liquids and gels used in ecigarettes and vaping devices beginning April 1.

To do this, the Health Minister had to exempt nicotine liquids and gels from the Poisons Act.

Current Malaysian laws do not explicitly allow or explicitly ban ecigarettes or vaping devices, and thus there are no regulations to govern their use.

However, the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, dubbed the “generational end game” (GEG), will cover vaping as well.

Under the Bill, children born in 2007 and after will be prohibited from smoking, buying or possessing any type of smoking product, including electronic cigarettes or vape products, even after reaching the age of 18.

However, the Bill met with some resistance and was referred to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for refinement.

In March this year, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa said that the GEG Bill would be expedited and retabled.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai said raising the vaping age limit to 21 might not make much of a difference if there is poor enforcement.

He also said that the longer the tabling and passing of the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, the higher the likelihood of more people, including children, becoming vape addicts.

“With nicotine removed from the Poisons Act before the tabling of the Bill, vaping products, including those containing nicotine, can be sold openly and legally to anyone, including children,” said Dr Muruga Raj.

Dr Muruga Raj added that vaping is harmful, as the serious health risks associated with vaping have already been well established.

He cited the Health Ministry’s Clinical Practice Guidelines on Management of E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI), which stated that inhalation of ecigarette aerosol could potentially cause, among others, adverse effects due to acute use of nicotine, developmental effects on the brain from nicotine exposure, uptake of subsequent illicit drug use, gateway to conventional cigarettes, dual use of both types of cigarettes, and negative psychosocial health.

The Consumer Association of Penang (CAP) said the only way to save the future generation is to ban vaping altogether.

Its education officer NV Subbarow said it was not too late for the government to reverse its decision and put in place a vaping ban to protect the young, adding that raising the age limit for vaping would not make a difference either.

“Look at Australia, for example. Vape sales are restricted by prescription and only to adults who want to quit smoking, but there’s still a huge vaping problem among children,” he added.

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