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Experts Highlight Reasons for Vaping Popularity Among Teens in Malaysia

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 25 — Addressing the challenge of preventing youth smoking is increasingly complex for parents and public health experts. Despite long-standing advocacy and awareness campaigns, keeping new generations from starting to smoke is becoming more difficult.

Changing Focus: From Tobacco to Vaping

The focus has shifted from traditional tobacco control to managing new, appealing products like e-cigarettes and vapes. These devices, often designed to resemble sleek gadgets, come in a variety of flavors, even more diverse than those of candies. Their attractive design, coupled with affordability and accessibility, has made them particularly enticing to teens and young adults eager to follow new trends and fit in with their peers.

Dramatic Increase in E-Cigarette Use

The Health Ministry’s recently released Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2023 reveals a significant rise in e-cigarette use in Malaysia. The number of users has surged by over 600 percent in the last 12 years. In 2011, only 0.8 percent of Malaysians used e-cigarettes, but by 2023, this number had climbed to 5.8 percent. The majority of these users are aged 15 to 24.

The Allure of Vaping

Dr. Leevyadhashiny Ganasan, a medical officer with the National Cancer Society of Malaysia, attributes the rise in e-cigarette use to several factors. These include aggressive marketing by e-cigarette companies, the perception of e-cigarettes as a fashionable and modern alternative to traditional smoking, and the availability of appealing flavors. Additionally, there are misconceptions about the safety of e-cigarettes compared to traditional cigarettes.

She notes that marketing tactics targeting younger consumers often involve creating flavors that mask the harshness of nicotine, making vaping seem more enjoyable than smoking tobacco products. Packaging that presents vaping devices as trendy accessories further contributes to the perception that vaping is stylish and socially acceptable.

Accessibility and Affordability

Respiratory medicine practitioner Dr. Liza Ahmad Fisal highlights that the accessibility and affordability of e-cigarettes and vapes in Malaysia contribute significantly to their widespread use. The ease of purchasing these products online or in stores, combined with their lower cost compared to traditional cigarettes, makes them attractive to young users. Dr. Leevyadhashiny concurs, emphasizing that easy access through various retail channels, along with competitive pricing, plays a role in the increasing use of these products.

Misconceptions About Quitting Smoking

Despite advertisements suggesting that e-cigarettes and vaping can help individuals quit smoking, this claim appears to be unfounded. Dr. Liza, who practices at Pantai Hospital Cheras, explains that the nicotine content in e-cigarettes can be as high or higher than that in traditional cigarettes. This high nicotine content can lead to strong addiction, especially among young users, and poses significant risks for lung health, including the development of nicotine dependence and respiratory problems.

Dr. Liza warns that e-cigarette vapor may contain harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, acrolein, and diacetyl, which are known to cause lung damage. These substances can lead to inflammation, lung tissue scarring, and other serious respiratory issues over time. Although long-term studies on vaping’s effects are still ongoing, early research suggests that vaping can cause chronic lung conditions like bronchitis and reduced lung function. Some studies also indicate a potential link between vaping and an increased risk of respiratory infections and other lung diseases.

The Need for Stricter Regulations

Despite ongoing awareness efforts, Dr. Leevyadhashiny advocates for stricter regulatory measures to protect minors from e-cigarettes and vapes. These measures could include more rigorous age verification for online sales, enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors in physical stores, educational campaigns to raise awareness about vaping risks, and penalties for retailers who violate age restrictions.

Dr. Liza suggests that behavioral counseling and nicotine replacement therapies may be effective in helping individuals quit vaping. Support groups and educational programs can assist users in understanding the risks and developing strategies to quit. Public health campaigns highlighting the dangers of vaping and offering resources for quitting can further support these efforts.

Conclusion

The popularity of e-cigarettes and vapes among Malaysian teens is driven by aggressive marketing, appealing design, affordability, and easy access. Addressing this issue requires a combination of stricter regulations, public health campaigns, and support for those seeking to quit.

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