Monday, September 23

Health director fears impact of e-cigarettes on students

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KUCHING: Sarawak director of health has cautioned that if electronic cigarettes are allowed to be available freely in the market, the number of smokers among school children would increase, which he said is growing at an alarming rate.

Speaking to The Borneo Post yesterday, Datuk Dr Zulkifli Jantan said with the sale of electronic cigarettes considered as legal under the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Control Act 2004, enforcement officers from the Health Department would not have the authority to take action against those selling the item.

Dr Zulkifli added that from the legal implication, as long as the product does not contain any tobacco and smoking it does not cause life threatening diseases or consumption of one brand or class of tobacco product is less harmful than the smoking or consumption of others, it is legal for sale.

“And once school children get hold of the product to try, they will gradually get into the habit of smoking real cigarettes, it is a chain psychological reaction and we have been receiving calls from parents to express their concern on the products which are readily available on the shelves,” he lamented, saying even though the department’s enforcement officers had been aggressively organising anti-smoking campaigns at schools throughout the state, the effort to curb the smoking habit among students had been ineffective.

He attributed this to the attitude of retailers who did not heed the Ministry of Health’s directive that tobacco products should not be sold to children under 18 years old.

On another note, he said an electronic cigarette, also known as e-cigarette, vapour cigarette or an e-cig, is an electrical inhaler that vaporises a propylene glycol – or glycerine – or polyethylene glycol-based liquid solution into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of tobacco smoking.

“It is often marketed as a smoking cessation aid or tobacco replacement. The similarities between conventional and electronic cigarettes are in the physical design and the nicotine release, which matches around the same amount of nicotine as a conventional cigarette,” Dr Zulkifli explained.

He added that the benefits or risks of electronic cigarette use are a subject of uncertainty among health organisations and researchers. Limited controlled studies are available due to their relatively recent invention. Laws governing the use and sale of electronic cigarettes, as well as the accompanying liquid solutions, vary widely, with pending legislation and ongoing debate in many regions.

“The logic of public health officials who have instated bans on e-cigarettes is that since e-cigarettes look like actual cigarettes, they must be curbed as well,” Dr Zulkifli concluded.