THE haze has come and gone, but there is still a cloud of smoke hanging over the issue of e-cigarettes. Almost every other day or week, there is yet another Malaysian voice clamouring in the mainstream media or on social media for a blanket ban on these devices, also known as vape.Several deaths in the US tenuously linked to vaping don’t help matters. Let’s lay some cards on the table first: smoking and vaping are not healthy.No one in their right mind can claim otherwise, and no one is claiming such.Certainly, no one is calling for the promotion of these items to potential smokers, especially those who are not legally old enough to smoke.If you were to look at all the deaths that recently surfaced, it doesn’t take a scientist to see that almost all of them resulted from improper use of the devices — either by refilling cartridges when they’re not supposed to, using fake e-cigarettes or using dosages above recommended levels, among others — and certainly by those who were not legally old enough to do so. Banning means that there are less avenues for users to gain proper information, whether to continue smoking or to do so in the safest manner possible. There is evidence that vaping is less hazardous to health than normal tobacco products. There is even a formal term to describe this argument: harm reduction. Of all the arguments for not banning e-cigarettes — whether economic or moralistic — it is the harm reduction argument which factually established that using vape will lead to less medical complications. In other words, banning e-cigarettes will deprive current smokers from an alternative that is not only less harmful but which can even help them give up smoking. This very point was raised by cardiologist Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos at the recent Third Asia Harm Reduction Forum in Seoul, South Korea, where he said that tobacco harm reduction is a necessity and should be considered in curbing the smoking habit. The view against banning is not a new one. Even from before the 21st century, The Economist opined that drugs should be legalised, because it is a black market activity by drug cartels that directly results in organised crime, turmoil and killings. Similarly, banning vape will not only create a forbidden fruit form of temptation. It will also mean that people will just go back to normal cigarettes thus solving nothing. If the government were to go ahead and enforce the ban, it would do nothing to help anyone at all. The government needs to start taking steps and offer solutions for well-considered reasons rather than just doing things reactively, regardless of whether it has to do with e-cigarettes or others. Face it, the harm reduction effects do lead to more benefits than people like to admit. There are several alternative actions that can be considered and implemented, and smokers in Malaysia have seen their rights and freedoms curtailed in the past few years. It may not be an ideal solution, but it’s still better than banning e-cigarettes and similar devices.MOHD NAZLI Kuala Lumpur
Social Media Stories, mostly Malaysia.