Tobacco industry innovation to be encouraged, not stifled

pic by TMR FILE

FOR the past few months, there has been a lot of news circulating about how vaping products have resulted in several deaths, most of which are primarily centred in the US. Since then, several countries such as Singapore, India and China have answered the call-to-action and placed a blanket ban on all vaping and e-cigarette-related products.

It is easy to claim that these “vaping-related-deaths” are the result of these evil vaping devices causing havoc to society. But taking a few seconds to read beyond the headlines reveals that these deaths were not caused by vaping devices, but from the custom tampering of vaping cartridges and the usage of THC oil, a substance found in marijuana, instead. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US has reported that in every vaping-related case, the victim had traces of an additive used in marijuana vaping which was never found in the original nicotine vaping products.

Although there is still no causal relationship between nicotine products and vaping-related incidents yet, it is safe to say that fingers should be pointed towards THC vaping instead of vaping nicotine cartridges as it was originally intended, because these products were tested by health professionals before they were distributed widely.

However, due to the spread of misinformation, the damage to vaping’s reputation as a tool to quit conventional cigarettes has already been done.

Amy Nyman, from the School of Public Health at Georgia State University, was quoted as saying: “Smokers who perceive too much risk from e-cigarettes may decide against using them to quit smoking and may instead continue with their combustible smoking habit.”

This is despite the fact that it is widely accepted that nothing could be far worse than combustible smoking. And yet, more and more people are detransitioning towards smoking cigarettes instead. Muddling the facts about vaping does nothing to help the public and instead causes more harm towards Malaysian smokers, who are the world’s largest consumers of illicit cigarettes based on a report in The Star.

People have every right to condemn and discourage the public usage of harmful products, tobacco included. However, I would like to highlight the fact that even tobacco products can be innovated to reduce harm, and initiatives such as vaping products should be encouraged but tightly regulated, rather than being discouraged.

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace — and sooner or later, I wouldn’t be surprised to see vape producers introducing tighter security against tampering, introducing measures against over-smoking and developing alternative chemical solutions that are much healthier than what we have today.

Think back to the time when cars were first widely introduced. At first, they were called “murder machines”, where people used cars to get away with what became known as “hit-and-runs” because laws were yet to be implemented. Think of the accidents that happened when roads were a public space that was shared by both pedestrians and vehicles.

These metal horses were heavily condemned by the public, and the government and automobile companies had to step in to build proper infrastructure and draft laws against the misuse of vehicles, as well as properly enforcing these laws. Fast forward to today: Can you imagine a modern society with vehicles on the road without those regulations and innovations?

I believe that a similar revolution can happen with vaping products as well. What the industry currently needs is a watchful eye on the development of such products, strict regulations and enforcement, while giving these products a breathing room, or even incentives to produce a healthier and safer solution to nicotine usage.

Remember, smokers would like to live a long life as well — and we would like the government’s support in furthering harm reduction initiatives and in taking a step in the right direction.

We are nearing the year 2020, and both the new and old governments constantly talk about innovation. It is time to put their money where their mouth is, and see some actual Budget 2020 funds being put to good use.

Jahaziah Lim
Petaling Jaya

The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the stand of the newspaper’s owners and editorial board.