YOUth should know: The legal and health implications of vaping

Vapes being seen as “safer” than cigarettes is a common misconception.

Fitri Mahad

Probably the only person that likes to hear the koels go ‘uwu’.

Published: 11 April 2023, 12:18 PM

Possessing and using e-vapourisers, commonly known as vapes, is illegal in Singapore. Earlier this month, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) announced a record seizure of 85,000 e-vaporiser products.

Despite this, some might still be undeterred. Discreet Telegram channels selling vapes or vape-related products are still in operation.

Given the discourse surrounding the social, health and legal aspects of vaping in Singapore, here are five things you should know about it:

1. Vapes do not contain tobacco leaves but mimics its effects instead

Most of us are aware that traditional cigarettes contain tobacco leaves, which harbours substances such as nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar.

The main difference that sets a vape apart from its traditional counterpart is the absence of tobacco leaves. However, vapes are still able to replicate its effects.

According to HealthHub, vapes are battery-operated devices that mimic the act of regular smoking.

It does this by heating an e-liquid or nicotine salts to generate a nicotine-containing aerosol which users inhale and exhale as vapour.

However, this does not make a vape any less harmful than a cigarette.

2. Vapes contain nicotine, benzene and other toxic substances

Some common chemicals found in vapes include nicotine and cancer-causing agents including benzene and formaldehyde, reported HealthHub.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that may lead to excessive use and eventually, nicotine poisoning.

Both benzene and formaldehyde are capable of causing infertility, and can cause leukaemia and cancer respectively.

Other harmful effects include mood disorder in youths, skin contamination and impulse control issues.

3. Vaping is not a means to quit smoking

Some common misconceptions include how vapes do not contain nicotine and can also be used to help one quit smoking.

Unlike cigarettes, nicotine content in vapes are unregulated and do not follow an industry standard.

Users will find that upon inhalation, the nicotine is vapourised and absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream.

HealthHub points out the potential for vaping to be a gateway to smoking.

They also cited studies from countries including Taiwan and Canada on how youths who have never smoked but experimented with vapes at least double their chance of smoking cigarettes later in life.

The Taiwan Adolescent to Adult Longitudinal Study assesses the relationship between electronic cigarette use and how it “increases the risk of subsequent initiation of conventional smoking among cigarette-naïve adolescents”.

It was carried out in two waves in 2014 and 2016 to be used as a baseline and follow-up respectively. The survey found that among the 12,954 cigarette-naive students that were surveyed, those with e-cigarette experience at the baseline exhibited higher odds of smoking initiation at follow-up.

A similar Canadian study, which also used a baseline and follow-up approach, examined e-cigarette use and its association with cigarette-smoking initiation at one year follow-up within a “large cohort of Canadian secondary school students”.

The study found that among the 44,163 students evaluated at baseline, past 30-day e-cigarette use was strongly associated with smoking status and smoking susceptibility.

The longitudinal sample also found that past 30-day use of e-cigarettes at baseline was associated with “initiation of smoking a whole cigarette and with initiation of daily smoking at follow-up”.

4. Those caught can face fines or imprisonment

The use and purchase of vapes also come under the Tobacco (Control Of Advertisements And Sale) Act, which prohibits persons from using, purchasing or possessing imitation tobacco products.

Those caught purchasing, using or having in their possession of imitation tobacco products shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000, according to the Act.

This also extends towards persons who distribute or import vapes. Those caught can face a fine of up to $10,000 or an imprisonment term of up to six months.

Persons with “previous qualifying convictions” can face a fine of up $20,000 and be imprisoned for up to 12 months, or both.

5. HPB has a customised 28-day programme to help users quit

Much like cigarette users, it is possible for those who vape to quit too.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB)’s I Quit Programme is a customised 28-day journey that users can sign up for to help with their quitting journey.

Users can also find out what kind of quitters they are, different quitting methods and how to prepare themselves before their quit-day.

They can choose from three personalised quit journeys: 28 Days of SMS, QuitLine and Face-to-Face Counselling. Each journey is divided into two phases: the first 28 days of quitting followed by the next six months.

For those who are more self-directed, they can opt for the SMS-based programme.

During the first 28 days, quitters can expect daily SMS tips on quitting and an optional call from QuitLine Advisors. This is followed by three text messages and one QuitLine call every month.

The QuitLine journey consists of both SMS and phone counselling. It will see three text messages and one QuitLine call every week, dropping down to every month after 28 days.

With Face-to-Face counselling, quitters will receive two text messages every week and attend three face-to-face counselling sessions with pharmacists. These sessions are free and conducted once per week, accompanied by three telephone follow-ups over six weeks.

After 28 days, quitters will receive three text messages every month and one call from a counsellor at the end of the first, third and sixth month.

Those who complete the programme can redeem a HPB eVoucher worth $50 on the 28th day, a $30 voucher at the 3-month mark, and $20 at the 6-month mark.

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