Kuala Lumpur, Oct 10: The Family Medicine Association Malaysia (FMA Malaysia) is deeply concerned about the escalating use of vaping and electronic cigarettes among teenagers and children.
While touted by some as a new economic opportunity for the country and a smoking cessation method, the reality is that there is no strong evidence supporting vaping as a smoking cessation therapy. Moreover, the economic costs associated with vaping-related illnesses, such as EVALI, far outweigh any potential benefits to the industry.
Countries like England and New Zealand, which have relaxed regulations on vaping, have witnessed a surge in the number of teenagers and children falling prey to this addiction, raising alarms among healthcare experts, especially pediatricians and family medicine specialists.
According to the 2022 Adolescent Health Survey, there has been a shift in smoking patterns among teenagers, with a decline in conventional cigarette use but a worrying increase in vaping.
What’s even more concerning is that six percent of teenagers using vaping devices are female, compared to only one percent using traditional cigarettes.
This highlights the higher acceptance of vaping among teenagers, in line with global research findings that attribute teenage vaping to curiosity, lifestyle, and appealing flavors.
Furthermore, since the removal of nicotine-containing liquids from the Poison Act on April 1, this year, nicotine sales are no longer regulated by any Malaysian law.
This has created an open market for unregulated sales, making it easily accessible to underage teenagers and children.
The National Poison Centre’s findings that vape products are sold alongside candies and stationery in retail stores further support this concern.
Family medicine experts from the University of Malaya, Associate Professor Dr. Nur Amani Ahmad Tajuddin, and Dr. Megat Mohammad Amirul Amzar Megat Hashim, along with their colleagues, have been actively advocating for smoking and vaping prevention since 2015.
They express deep concern over the rising trend of vaping among teenagers and children.
In their experience, they have encountered troubling vaping patterns among school-age teenagers (13-16 years old), including mixing vape with hallucinogenic substances such as psilocybin (referred to as “mushroom flavor” by teenagers) and adding tar to e-liquids.
Such patterns are alarming because the use of hallucinogenic drugs not only poses serious health risks such as acute poisoning and addiction but also elevates the risk of social issues like drug-induced sexual assaults, as evidenced by an incident in Sabah in May.
In addition to health concerns, vaping devices using lithium-ion batteries pose a risk of explosions and serious injuries, increasing the likelihood of fires.
Studies also suggest that chemical components like propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, and flavorings in vaping products have the potential to damage the lungs and respiratory system.
This is further supported by the experiences shared by Prof. Dr. Amani and Dr. Amirul, where some students experienced a decline in their physical abilities after succumbing to vaping.
Teenagers who began vaping as early as 12 years old, using devices left behind by their fathers, were no longer able to participate in physical activities like playing football.
Instead, they could only watch from the sidelines during physical education classes.
Currently, they are receiving counseling from family medicine specialists to quit vaping.
A 15-year-old teenager easily purchased a vape without being asked for identification, admitting to adding crushed tar to e-juice to intensify the “high” when using the device.
Another 13-year-old student was recently expelled from school for repeatedly using a vape, catching the attention of school authorities.
As responsible adults, it is crucial not to blame these teenagers, as they have fallen victim to addiction due to the loopholes in our country’s tobacco product control laws.
Therefore, the association urges the government to pass the Public Health Control of Tobacco Products Bill 2023, which is slated for its second reading in the October 2023 parliamentary session.
Any delay or postponement of this bill could push our teenagers further toward undeniable harm.
We firmly denounce any attempts to politicize this issue and hide behind legislative powers entrusted to them.
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