Vaping: A new addiction

Unregulated, vaping will create a population of nicotine and drug addicts among non-smokers, warns Universiti Malaya associate professor Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin.

Self-regulation alone is not enough because there are "rogues" in the industry, he says.

Previously, nicotine was only introduced through tobacco use. Now, a new breed of nicotine addicts who have never smoked are emerging, he says.

Nicotine in youngsters are especially dangerous because it affects the brain, he says, adding that a growing number of college students are selling vape kits to their juniors for side income.

"Don't be naive. Vape mimics smoke. How do parents explain the difference to impressionable youths?"

The juices - mostly containing nicotine - and advertisements, are enticing to teens, he says. He notes that more young women have also started vaping.

Dr Amer Siddiq, who is also a consultant psychiatrist and nicotine addiction specialist, is planning to research the vaping phenomenon here.

Questioning the legality of selling nicotine juices, he says the lack of labels and proper lab testing are also worrying.

We know how each agent inside the juices work but when mixed together, is the chemical reaction safe, he asks.

"Even the devices don't have to meet Sirim standards and can be misused to vape drugs," he cautions.

He says that in the United States, a new designer drug called Flakka is often smoked using e-cigs.

A technical working group to study the impact of e-cigarettes on smokers and those surrounding them has been formed, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah says.

The group's upcoming report, which includes e-cigs as an alternative to reduce smoking, will be used to create a new policy on vaping activities in the country, he says.

This emerging trend seems to be popular among adult smokers attempting to cut back on cigarettes, he says, adding that many studies have shown that the popularity of e-cigarettes is increasing among smokers as an alternative to tobacco.

"(However) the vaping trend or e-cigarette smoking among underage Malaysians is something we should be worried about as youngsters by nature are more likely to experiment with new things."

Once ready, the detailed report will be discussed by the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control steering committee chaired by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, he says.

National Institute of Respiratory Medicine director Datuk Dr Abdul Razak Muttalif assures that the report will be ready soon.

"We need some time as the industry is still in its early stages," he says.

He, however, warns parents that there's a risk of their children being addicted to nicotine if they are vaping.

"There are pros and cons to vaping. It helps wean smokers off cigarettes but the long-term effects of the vapour is still unknown," he says.

He says the main concern is the content of the vaping liquid because we don't know what kind of "funny concoctions" people are coming up with, adding that the devices and liquids must be regulated.

"As the liquid contains nicotine, it'll be under the ministry's pharmaceutical department."

In the United Kingdom, ENDS will be licensed as a medicine from next year to ensure that "standards of quality, safety and efficacy are met; monitoring safety in use, including over the long-term, is provided for; and advertising is controlled through medicines provisions and any emerging risks."