A public health challenge

19 Nov 2019 / 19:47 H.

    I APPLAUD the government’s efforts in taking measures against the sale of vaping and e-cigarette products targeting children, especially with the announcement that they will be closely monitoring and restricting online sales.

    I am a light smoker and e-cigarette user, and I agree that children should not be exposed to such vices.

    However, the vaping and e-cigarette community is worried that blanket policies restricting usage among youths, have intentionally or unintentionally affected responsible adult users.

    I am not claiming that vaping or smoking e-cigarettes is healthy. But there are a significant number of nicotine users who can’t afford to quit nicotine due to a variety of reasons, and have vaping and e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative.

    Some are battling addiction and are looking for a coping mechanism. Many opt for vaping and e-cigarettes because it is healthier than smoking cigarettes. I believe that this is the demographic that has been neglected, and the government should pay more attention to it.

    The government has shown no sign of supporting the cause of responsible nicotine usage, and instead hinted at the possibility of banning nicotine devices. The lack of clear directions worries me and other device users.

    There are three possible stances that the government can take:

    » All nicotine products are bad

    » All vape and e-cigarette products are bad

    » All vape and e-cigarette products are bad because children are using them.

    If the government takes a hardline stance against all nicotine products, but bans only vape products and not cigarettes, it is contradictory.

    I believe the government is leaning towards the second and third stances. In that sense, wouldn’t the best approach be to further regulate the industry than an outright blanket ban?

    An outright ban will only hurt veteran smokers keen to transition to a healthier lifestyle and who don’t have the resources to quit cold turkey.

    Joining other countries that banned e-cigarettes and vaping products serves nothing more than to boost the illegal trade and empower criminal groups.

    What is the solution then? The same solution that the United States has employed. Hospitals in the US issued free drugs (not the medication kind) in small doses to prevent withdrawal symptoms and slowly introduced these drug addicts back to society to become functioning members of society with special treatment programmes.

    If only there is a potential tobacco equivalent of a tool that can help facilitate well-regulated, well-controlled drug distribution to prevent irresponsible and overuse of drugs. That is what vapes and e-cigarettes could have been.

    Some manufacturers have introduced a system that produces foul-tasting chemicals after multiple uses to prevent nicotine overdoses or have tightly regulated pods to prevent tampering.

    Instead of having gruesome photos on the nicotine product packaging (which does not prove effective), why not have a customer helpline or a tagline that states “Are you suffering from nicotine addiction? Call this number for help.”

    It can be very difficult for the government to even show a slight hint of support for the tobacco industry, even if it meant loosening up regulations.

    But there are plenty of smokers who respect people’s choices not to blow smoke in their faces; smokers who respect and honour the 3m rule; smokers who have the right to choose to smoke in private without bothering others to get through a long day at work.

    To me, vape and e-cigarette products are not the plagues that come and terrorise the nation. To me, it is a public health dream that gives people a chance to practice responsible smoking and an overall healthier alternative.

    Jahaziah Lim

    Petaling Jaya

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