Vapes in the Far East

Posted 13th April 2017 by Dave Cross
People in Singapore are using the excuse that foreign companies are trying to get their youth hooked on nicotine to justify raising the legal purchasing age. A fear of foreigners comes through the discussions being had in Thailand too, as they are worried about nicotine products being developed by firms outside of their direct control. Meanwhile, in Malaysia, people opposed to harm reduction liberally add the word “kids” to any sentence they utter on the subject.

At the National University of Singapore, Professor Chia Kee Seng holds forth on the dangers being presented to the youth of his country: “Tobacco companies are known to target youth in their marketing to get them addicted as early as possible. Youths are also more susceptible to nicotine dependency.”

The Dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health believes it’s important to hold on to the public health mantra of blaming everything on tobacco companies, and will willingly cite flawed American studies that purport to link teenage brain developmental problems to nicotine. It’s a desperate line of argument used to justify criminalizing and fining ($300) young smokers who want to switch to vaping – one eagerly swallowed and regurgitated by the local media.

Thai officials believe that rapid action is required to block loopholes in their new tobacco products bill. They realised that although they tried to block foreigners from having control over tobacco and vape manufacturing in the country, the legislative gaps means that (in effect) non-Thai companies could achieve over a 49% holding in any business through using proxy shareholders.

Thai lawyers state that the lack of clarity could open the way for foreigners to exert a controlling influence, and that no one would be able to guarantee tobacco companies do not hold influence in the cabinet.

In Malaysia, as we have been tracking for a number of years, politicians and health officials share this tunnel-vision fear of Big Tobacco. In fact it has become so great that no lie can be too big as long as it is justified by winning the war against that industry. What they all-too frequently forget is that there is a vibrant and successful independent sector pushing a harm reduction agenda.

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The Star newspaper repeats an old one this week, retelling the fib that almost 40% of Malay 14 and 15 year-olds vape, according to the Health Ministry. Its study found exactly what ministers wanted it to find: high numbers of users to shock the public and vapers to say that they are doing something as dangerous as smoking. “It’s a fact,” writes The Star, to something that is anything but.

The paper reports: “Universiti Malaya nicotine addiction specialist Associate Professor Doctor Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin believes there is a ‘high possibility’ of e-cig and vape users moving on to cigarettes. It’s been his concern all along.”

Looking at the treatment of vaping in Malaysia is like entering a frightening 1984 world of doublespeak. The Deputy Education Minister is quoted as saying: “We must go to schools. And parents must be aware that e-cigs and vape are no different from tobacco products… We must ‘de-normalise’ smoking.”

And as if vape replacing smoking wasn’t denormalising smoking to begin with, the paper repeats the hysterical calls from the Association of Adolescent Health: “[We] urged the Health Ministry to take aggressive steps to protect our youth from the harmful effects of using e-cigs or vape, by implementing a complete ban on the manufacturing, distribution and marketing, of the devices.”

It’s sadly ironic that the people who will suffer the most from these ill-judged attempts to protect the young are the teens themselves.         

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 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, salad destroyer and live culture convert.
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