Regulate but don't ban e-cigarettes, expert tells Singapore

Nurul Azliah Aripin
Lifestyle Lead
A man smoking an electronic cigarette - File Picture

REPORTING FROM LONDON

Regulating electronic cigarettes is a better option than banning them due to the potential benefits for smokers who are looking to quit their habit, according to a UK expert.

Heneage Mitchell, founder of survey site FactAsia.org, was giving his views to Yahoo Singapore about the upcoming ban on the use of e-cigarettes in Singapore after attending a summit in London.

The ban on e-cigarettes, which produce vapour for users to inhale, takes effect on 15 December. Also known as personal vaporisers or electronic nicotine delivery systems, e-cigarettes come in a large variety of flavours (also referred to as juices) and often contain nicotine. The act of using e-cigarettes is commonly referred to as “vaping”.

Mitchell said the Singapore government should instead regulate e-cigarettes to ensure that they are safe to use.

“The government has denied access to a product that is scientifically proven to be much safer than a legal product. To me, that doesn’t make sense.”

Mitchell, who was the former managing editor of Tobacco Asia, added, “They [the government] need to take a step back and ask what are our long term health goals, and it’s definitely to reduce death and disease associated with smoking.”

The e-cigarette summit on 12 November saw university researchers coming together to unveil their survey findings related to e-cigarettes.

Since Singapore banned the import, sale and distribution of e-cigarettes on 28 November 2014, many Singapore smokers have flocked across the Causeway to get their vaping fix. While the products are not banned in Malaysia - the local industry was worth US$639 million in 2014, according to a report by Channel NewsAsia - the authorities are cracking down on juices that contain nicotine.

Many smokers see vaping as effective in helping them to curb or quit the habit, mainly due to the absence of harmful tobacco and smoke in e-cigarettes. The UK’s Public Health Department released survey findings in August this year stating that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco.

In a joint statement released previously, Singapore’s Ministry of Health, Health Sciences Authority and Health Promotion Board said, “We are aware that e-cigarettes have been marketed as a safer alternative to standard cigarettes or as an effective smoking cessation device. We remain cautious as there is no conclusive scientific evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of e-cigarettes in helping smokers quit tobacco use.

”E-cigarettes could potentially be a gateway to developing a smoking habit, particularly among the young.”

Concern with unregulated e-cigarette juices in Malaysia

While it’s not difficult to manufacture e-cigarette juices, Mitchell said that smokers should be getting the support from their respective governments so that they can buy products that are safe to use.

During the interview, Mitchell also showed images of an e-cigarette store that he recently visited in Malaysia. The images showed several shelves that were fully stocked with bottles of unregulated juices.

“Unbelievable, it’s totally unregulated. There’s just dozens and dozens of these wholesalers, and all of them had two, three, four people buying chunks of juice… they had no idea what’s in them,” he said.

The ingredients of juices are typically water, propylene glycol, vegetable glycol, and pharmaceutical-grade nicotine, and food grade flavor, and they are easy to make, Mitchell pointed out.

How other countries regulate e-cigarettes

Authorities from around the world have different ways of regulating e-cigarettes.

South Korea taxes e-cigarettes, which are categorised as tobacco products. A milliliter of liquid nicotine is taxed at the same rate as a box of tobacco.

Australia categorises nicotine as poison if not used for therapeutic purposes. E-cigarettes without nicotine are categorised as consumer products.

A full list of countries and their e-cigarette regulations, which was revealed at the summit, is available here.