By Kisho Kumari Sucedaram
KUALA LUMPUR:While e-cigarette advocates tout vaping as a less hazardous alternative to conventional smoking, the local medical fraternity begs to differ.
In fact, if Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam had his way, vaping would be banned in the country. Last month, when he spoke about the government considering a ban on vaping, a few of his Cabinet colleagues and vaping lobbyists swiftly registered their objections. Then, on Oct 30, the Cabinet decided not to ban the use of e-cigarettes.
The fact that there are some one million vapers in Malaysia – with a market estimated to be the second largest in the world, after the United States – may have something to do with the government’s decision.
Recent research on vaping carried out by a leading e-cigarette researcher in Greece, meanwhile, provide evidence that is highly favourable to the vaping community. Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, a cardiologist who has been doing research on vaping since it became popular in 2007, claims that his findings show that “vaping is 95 per cent safer than smoking”.
But other international health experts have stated that the evidence was inconclusive and did not prove that the practice of vaping was safe overall. Local experts are also not convinced. So, the jury is still out on whether vaping is, indeed, a safer alternative to smoking.
FEWER INGREDIENTS IN E-LIQUID
“If you were to ask me whether vaping is less harmful than smoking, my answer is: ‘Both are equally hazardous’,” declared Universiti Putra Malaysia’s (UPM) Cancer Resource and Education Centre Director Prof Dr Latiffah Abdul Latiff.
However, she said, in terms of the actual composition of the vape juice or e-liquid and that of the traditional cigarette, the former would come across as safer as it only contained four main ingredients, as opposed to some 599 additives that go into the cigarette during the manufacturing process.
According to Latiffah, the e-liquid was usually composed of water, nicotine, flavouring and propylene glycol, while it may also include other ingredients like vegetable glycerine or polyethylene glycol.
When a mod or electronic vaporiser device is in use, the heat atomises the nicotine and other ingredients in the e-liquid.
“In goes a ‘user-controlled’ dose of nicotine and, after a drag of the vape, out comes a thick and almost misty exhaust,” explained Latiffah, adding that although some vape juices were said to be nicotine-free, the chemical contents of their flavourings remain unknown.
“We don’t know what those flavourings consist of. If chemicals are being used (for the flavourings), they must first be certified safe (for consumption) because we don’t know what their short-term or long-term effects on health may be,” she told Bernama, recently.
Also unknown were the effects of the chemicals that may be found in the mist or water vapour produced during vaping, added Latiffah.
DO PROPER SCIENTIFIC TRIALS
Pointing to the possibility of vape devices being shared by groups of people, Latiffah said it was not only unhygienic but gave rise to the potential transmission of the hepatitis virus and other contagious diseases that are transmitted through the nose and throat.
“Besides the chemicals (in the e-liquids), sharing of the vape device with others can be dangerous too,” she added.
Malaysian Medical Association immediate past president Dr H. Krishna Kumar said although e-liquids were said to contain low doses of nicotine, it was still hazardous to health if inhaled over a long period.
“The contents of the vape (liquid) are not predetermined. The higher the (amount) of nicotine and other materials inside, the higher the risk. As it is not manufactured by standard doses, we are unable to say how safe or dangerous it is,” he told Bernama.
Krishna Kumar added that since vaping was a fairly new trend and industry, the authorities have yet to get a full and clear picture of its dangers.
“But think rationally. Do we want one of our family members to die from it (vaping) before we act?
“If you want to use it, let the manufacturers do proper scientific trials to prove its safety. Would you not want a safety profile of a synthetic food product or drug before you consume it? Why is it different here (for vaping)?” he asked.
UPM RESEARCH ON VAPING
Meanwhile, Latiffah said UPM – in collaboration with the Health Ministry, general medical practitioners and non-governmental organisations – was currently conducting research on vaping.
Declining to say when the research was expected to be completed, she said it would take a scientific approach and would include surveys.
“We hope the findings of our research will come in useful to our policymakers in regulating the vape industry in future,” she said.
She said in the United States, e-cigarettes were first introduced to smokers as a nicotine cessation therapy.
“But can we validate some people’s perception that vaping is a safe alternative to smoking? Currently, there’s no evidence to suggest that vaping is as good as not smoking at all,” she said.