On April 1, the Ministry of Health removed nicotine used for vape and e-cigarettes from the list of preparations controlled under the Poisons List to much uproar from healthcare professionals and the general public.
Amidst the protests, however, there were still those who were unaware of all the facts surrounding the issue and why so many people were upset by this.
On social media, one of the main questions being asked is: Why are we so bothered about nicotine? Nicotine is one of the main components of cigarettes, and that’s been publicly available for decades for use by the public. Is nicotine that bad?
Yes. As a substance, nicotine has been proven to be as addictive as cocaine or heroin, and in some studies has been proven to be even more addictive than either of these substances.
When a person takes nicotine (in whatever form) they get a temporary surge of endorphins, or simply called a ‘high’ which makes them feel good.
Unfortunately, the ‘high’ is brief and the person feels ‘down’ just as quickly, requiring them to continue dosing (i.e puffing) to ensure that they continue to get nicotine.
Just like in cocaine or heroin addicts, nicotine addicts experience chemical changes in their brains, leading to the need to continue receiving nicotine all the time with withdrawal symptoms occurring as a result.
This chemical transformation is why nicotine addicts continue to crave and need the substance they are addicted to.
Worsening the issue is evidence showing how long it takes to get an individual addicted to nicotine. While addictiveness may vary depending on the individual, data shows that individuals can get ‘hooked’ on nicotine within three to seven days! This means that even short exposure of a few days is enough to get one addicted to nicotine for an extended period of time running into months or years.
Unfortunately, the addictiveness of nicotine is just one of its harmful effects.
Nicotine causes an increased risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders; along with a negative impact on reproductive health and the immune system.
Nicotine has also been shown to affect cell reproduction, as well as to cause cell death and DNA mutations – all mechanisms which lead to cancer.
In individuals already diagnosed with cancer, nicotine causes aggressive mutations and the spread of the cancer as well as reduces the effectiveness of treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Simply put, combining the addictiveness of nicotine with the harmful effects it has on the human body is a lethal combination.
Upon understanding a little better the dangers of nicotine as a substance and its addictiveness, it becomes a little easier to answer the second question many people are asking which is: what is the impact of removing nicotine from the Poisons List?
By removing nicotine from the Poisons List, we have now enabled nicotine-containing vape and e-cigarettes to be sold legally to anyone; including a one-year-old child.
Some people may be confused about why there are no such concerns in terms of cigarettes. Why can’t children buy cigarettes, which also contain nicotine?
Well, under the existing Control of Tobacco Products Regulations (CTPR), there are legal prohibitions on anyone under 18 years of age from buying cigarettes. There aren’t any such regulations for vape or e-cigarettes though. This legal loophole now enables anyone and everyone to buy and use nicotine-containing vape or e-cigarettes.
On the surface, this may not seem to be worrying. After all, this legal loophole should be resolved once the government tables its long-awaited Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill, which most recently the prime minister has committed to doing in the May parliament sitting.
However, here are some reasons why many tobacco-control advocates are not able to sleep at night.
Reason 1: Various governments since 2004 have tried to table a Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill. None of them ever did it; and even when the Bill (in its latest incarnation) went through Parliament last year, it was not passed.
So, forgive us tobacco control advocates if we are a little pessimistic on yet another promise to put this Bill through Parliament.
Reason 2: We will lose the battle in terms of new addictions. As mentioned earlier, evidence shows that usage of nicotine devices over even a few days can lead to a young person becoming addicted to nicotine; perhaps even over a lifetime.
Every day that legal access is enabled in Malaysia means a bigger number of new, young nicotine addicts is developing – and this will cause a huge burden of disease over the long run as increasingly younger people grow ill over prolonged exposure to nicotine (and the countless other substances in vaping devices and e-cigarettes).
Reason 3: With no regulations in place for control of vaping devices and e-cigarettes, the industry can actively promote their products. As can be seen, they are doing so aggressively; from ads and festivals to even sponsoring kids’ sports teams.
I come from a generation when the ‘Road to Wembley’ was sponsored by a tobacco company, and as can be seen, even thirty years later the ‘brand’ continues to leave an impression on me.
One shudders to think of the impact of the advertising blitz that the industry has unleashed onto the public to get their target market i.e young people (who will become lifelong clients) ‘hooked’ on their products.
Like other parents with children, I am afraid on the generational health impact this will leave on our young people. Unfortunately, the powers that be don’t seem to be that concerned.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.