Let’s follow UK on e-cigarette regulations — Sarah Zailana Hamid

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AUGUST 20 — Last week, the UK government released a report from their Science and Technology Committee once again advocating a more liberal stance on e-cigarettes. After holding five oral sessions, reading through 100 evidence papers and even listening from 25 witnesses — the verdict is clear that e-cigarettes help lower smoking rates.

The report released on August 17 says that while there are uncertainties on long-term effects, any judgement of risks has to take account of the risk of not adopting e-cigarettes — that is, continuing to smoke conventional cigarettes, which are substantially more harmful. 

Thus, existing smokers should be encouraged to give up, but if that is not possible they should switch to e-cigarettes as a considerably less harmful alternative. This needs repeating because the naysayers of e-cigarettes keep harping that it “is not safe”.

Of course, it “is not safe”. Nobody is saying that e-cigarettes are fully safe. 

What is being said instead is that e-cigarettes and other such devices are less harmful than actual cigarettes. And there are already studies to prove it.

The reasoning for this was explained by Public Health England and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

“Levels of carcinogenic chemicals (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds are substantially lower in e-cigarettes’ aerosol compared with tobacco smoke. 

Biomarkers of carcinogen exposures (chemicals detected in the blood or urine of users) are also substantially decreased in current e-cigarette-only users compared with cigarette smokers, and decrease when smokers switch to e-cigarettes,”

The summary of the report ends with this:

“There should be a shift to a more risk-proportionate regulatory environment; where regulations, advertising rules and tax duties reflect the evidence of the relative harms of the various e-cigarette and tobacco products available. While an evidence-based approach is important in its own right, it also would help bring forward the behaviours that we want as a society — less smoking, and greater use and acceptance of e-cigarettes and novel tobacco products if that serves to reduce smoking rates.”

I have to ask if our Malaysian Minister of Health, Dzulkefly Ahmad, is reading the evidence from the United Kingdom. I am hoping that we move towards a similar stance, which is to allow its usage while having annual reviews to seek out long-term effects with a publicly funded health committee providing oversight.

Because if our government insists on waiting until those long-term effects are visible, we will be looking at no alternative to smoking and thus, letting the Malaysian smoking population continue to miss the opportunity for a less harmful choice.

The report also pointed out the stigma over vaping, and how the secondhand vapour had “negligible health risks”. Thus, the media should bear some responsibility for demonising the vaping community in the past which led to the overreaction from our authorities and the general public.

Truth be told, there is a need for an independent study of Malaysians on e-cigarettes and such devices, a monitoring of their long-term health effects, while the government allows these product to be promoted as an alternative to traditional cigarettes for people trying to quit smoking.

I do hope that Dzulkefly manages to push through such a change so that we can truly move forward towards a healthier Malaysia with the principle of harm reduction rather than an outright ban.

PS: The full report can be found here

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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