KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) is still considering whether or not to promote e-cigarettes or vape products as a less harmful alternative to cigarette smoking.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin acknowledged that the United Kingdom, Japan, and New Zealand treat vape products as a harm reduction approach to tobacco smoking, but noted that scientific data shows that e-cigarettes or vape affect one’s health.
He cited the Systematic Review (2021) report published by the World Health Organization that highlighted the health effects of using e-cigarettes.
Khairy also referred to the Pulmonary Illness Related to E-Cigarette Use in Illinois and Wisconsin (2020) report that identified a new disease in the United States related to e-cigarettes called the E-Cigarette and Vaping Product Use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI).
In a bid to strengthen EVALI surveillance and to identify the burden of disease related to e-cigarettes or vape in Malaysia, the MOH has made EVALI a notifiable disease.
“Therefore, deciding on a policy to acknowledge electronic cigarettes as harm reduction must be made carefully based on strong scientific evidence to protect the safety and health of Malaysians,” Khairy told Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii in a written Dewan Rakyat reply last July 19.
Health agencies in both the UK and New Zealand treat e-cigarettes as a tool to help smokers quit; New Zealand excludes vape from its proposed generational tobacco ban that will start with the 2008 generation.
These health authorities state that vaping is much less harmful than smoking as e-cigarettes do not produce tar or carbon monoxide, two of the most harmful elements in tobacco smoke.
Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib wrote recently that increasing numbers of young women and teenagers in Malaysia are vaping, as he called for vape to be regulated as strictly as tobacco and taxed appropriately.
While further research is being conducted into the viability of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool, the MOH made strengthening its MyQuit programme, as outlined in the National Strategic Plan for the Control of Tobacco and Smoking Products 2021-2030 (Generational Endgame), a priority.
However, doing so will incur additional costs that are inclusive of the cost of treatment and promotional activities for quit-smoking services.
Khairy stated that the ministry already spent RM2.8 million in the year 2019, RM2.5 million in the year 2020, and RM2.28 million in the year 2021 in covering the cost of smoking cessation medications.
He said MOH has put in an application under the Anti-Smoking Generational End Game 18 Plan (GEGAR-18) for a further RM20 million for the year 2023.
This amount is inclusive of the amount allocated for promotional activities and the cost of smoking cessation treatment.
Khairy plans to table a Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill in the current Parliament meeting that proposes to ban the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vape to anyone born from January 1, 2005. This means that those turning 18 next year or younger will not be allowed to purchase such products ever in their lifetime.