Myanmar health experts seek ban on e-cigarettes

Ko Thura Aung was very happy that he was able to buy an e-cigarette for K3000 (US$2), much lower than its normal price of about K25000, from a roadside shop in Tarmwe township on his return from work.

“We are inspired by the actors in advertisements who blow smoke from e-cigarettes. When I get it cheap, I am happy. I keep it with me whenever I go to office. I use it during my free time,” said the 23-year-old office worker from Dagon South.

He also got strawberry flavoured liquid for the e-cigarette. The seller told him e-cigarettes, commonly called vapes, is harmless and could help him stop smoking cigarettes.

So it came as a shock to Aung Thura that e-cigarette liquid can contain nicotine just like ordinary cigarettes but in liquid form. The Ministry of Health and Sports and the World Health Organization have issued warnings about using e-cigarettes or vaping.

E-cigarettes remains popular among Myanmar youths due to false information by sellers who claim it has no health hazard and is even beneficial in getting rid of the habit of smoking real cigarettes.

Dr Thein Swe, vice president from People’s Health Foundation, called on the government to ban the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes.

“The most effective way is to shut down and ban. It has to be done by government departments,” he said. “The quickest way is to release a notification to ban.”

U Maung Maung, a member of Myanmar Consumer Protection Commission and secretary of Myanmar Consumers Union, underscored the need for cooperation among all relevant government departments to put an end to vaping.

“This problem can’t be resolved by one agency alone. Our consumers will have protection only if all concerned departments make sure of there are no loopholes in their relevant areas,” he said. “We need to take clear and precise action.”

Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik, 52, is frequently credited for inventing the modern electronic cigarette in 2003 while looking for ways to kick his smoking habit.

He used to smoke up to two packs of cigarettes a day. His invention of the electronic cigarette was introduced in China in 2013 and became a hit around the world.

E-cigarette is an electronic device that can be used like cigarette by heating some type of liquid and can produce smoke like cigarette smoke.

The chemical element of nicotine is turned into liquid form that transforms into smoke by the electronic system.

“Non-smokers avoid cigarette smoke. Now, it smells like fruits such as watermelon. People like this sweet fragrant smell,” explained Dr Thein Swe.

Most e-cigarettes are imported from China, the US and Malaysia and the prices of reusable and disposable e-cigarettes range from K20,000 to more than K200,000, said the People’s Health Foundation.

It warned the chemicals in e-cigarette liquid can cause lung damage and cancers. People can also get hurt if the battery of e-cigarettes explode. It is also harmful if it enters into the eyes or drops onto the skin and harmful for the children.

The Ministry of Health and Sports warned that e-cigarettes contain volatile organic compounds such as nicotine, nickel, iron, lead and other particles and chemicals that can seriously affect the lungs.

The WHO, which conducted study on the usage of e-cigarettes, recommended that halt in the importation of e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, for Myanmar, its current laws that control tobacco consumption does not include vaping.

According to the country’s Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law which was enacted in 2006, currently covers “any cigarette, cheroot, cigar, smoking pipe and any other similar material prepared by any means for inhalation of smoke emitted from the burning of tobacco product.”

Material created through electronic means cannot be considered as tobacco, therefore, not subject to the current law, health experts said.

They urge the Health Ministry to issue specific directives related to e-cigarettes.

“They can be prohibited with a directive. When I studied the Consumer Protection Law, I found a paragraph that says the authorities are to prohibit harmful products or things for health and so, it is under their jurisdiction,” said Dr Thein Swe.

An official from Yangon Region Consumer Affairs Department said the once the Health Ministry issues a directive saying e-cigarettes are harmful and should be banned, they can act on it.

“It would be wrong for us to claim e-cigarettes are harmful to health as we are not experts on the subject,” he said. “But if an institution officially announced these products are harmful for health, we can bring it in line with our laws from the consumer damage prevention perspective,” said U Min Thein, deputy director of the Department of Consumer Affairs for Yangon Region.

Action could also be taken against sale of e-cigarettes according to the Essential Supplies and Services Law, used in cracking down on multi-level marketing (MLM) companies, said U Maung Maung, a member of Myanmar Consumer Protection Commission.

“Immediate action can be taken against e-cigarettes according to the Essential Supplies and Services Law. There is the Consumer Protection Law too. So, we should take immediate action before the situation gets worse,” he said.

Currently the Ministry of Health and Sports is trying to amend the Control of Smoking and Consumption of Tobacco Product Law to include e-cigarettes, said an official from the ministry. The Ministry of Health and Sports has to consider the possible impact on the tobacco industry to issue the notification, apart from cooperating with relevant legal experts, he said.

U Aung Tun, health adviser for the Ministry of Health and Sports, assured that the ministry will act on the issue soon. “The ministry is expected to release regulations soon,” he said. It is one of the points submitted to the ministry. It will take action sooner than later.”

The Myanmar Times asked 30 young people on public areas about their view on e-cigarettes and 20 of them replied that vaping does not cause harm to health while 10 said it is harmful to health.

Dr Thein Swe warned that tobacco-related diseases could increase if vaping remains unchecked.

“If not stopped, people will become dual users- both tobacco and e-cigarettes. Vaping is now common. Unless controlled effectively, diseases like cancer and heart diseases will double, I guess,” he said. – Translated

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Source : Myanmar Times

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