Use of e-cigarettes rising at alarming rate

Research states battery-powered devices more harmful than conventional smoking


Our Correspondent August 21, 2021
DESIGN: IBRAHIM YAHYA

ISLAMABAD:

Rampant innovation in a health-conscious society is the tobacco industry’s only hope for survival, which they have pinned on e-cigarettes.

The multi-flavoured e-cigarettes sales’ gained momentum after they were marketed as being a ‘healthier’ and better-smelling alternative to cigarettes capable of being ‘vaped’ instead of smoked. Presently, e-cigarettes are making their presence felt in Pakistan and more so in the federal capital.

In Islamabad’s context, the problem is exacerbated by flashy vape shops, from which they can be bought, without any sort of identification or age-check, in well-known plazas and shopping areas. Gone are the days when the youth of the capital had to rely on dingy corner shops to get cigarettes.

Common between the modern smoke shops, apart from the product, is a warm and welcoming interior, and young adult employees. The exquisite branding, the pull of young and charming salespeople, and a luxury feel to smoking serves as an attraction for the consumers that visit these shops.

Hamza Murtaza Bhatti, a resident of the capital who picked up the habit in college, talking to The Express Tribune said that for the last three years he had been enjoying the delicious taste of e-cigarettes.

“With e-cigarettes, the atmosphere is pleasant, and you can enjoy it easily without having to hide it from family. At first, my father forbade me but now he seems to be okay with it,” he said.

An e-cigarette, which sells from anywhere between Rs3,000 to Rs10,000, is a battery-powered smoking device whose cartridge is filled with different chemical solutions to give flavour and provide vaporized nicotine during inhalation.

A recently released World Health Organisation (WHO) report titled: “The global tobacco epidemic 2021: addressing new and emerging products” states that tobacco and related industries market and promote Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) as “safer” alternatives to conventional cigarettes and many users perceive them to be significantly “less harmful” than tobacco products, especially cigarettes.

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Hamza Shafiq, the manager of an upscale smoke shop, agreeing with this view informed The Express Tribune that these devices are just juice and nicotine mixed basically.

“Our sales have grown due to people switching to vapes. This is because they have done their research and reached the conclusion that cigarettes are far more harmful as they have tar and carbon monoxide but vapes do not,” he said.

However, even though many of the long-term health effects of ENDS use are still unknown, there is growing evidence to demonstrate that these products are not harmless as per the WHO report.

According to another study, e-cigarettes cause inflammation in the lungs and this process causes damage to neurons in the human brain.

Similarly, a study of a group of 12th graders found that children who vaped (but never smoked in the past) had a health risk four times more than those who smoked.

The marketing of e-cigarettes, coupled with the packaging, does not give the impression of a product that is bad for health in contrast cigarette boxes carry pictures showing the harmful effects of smoking - a key reason for an increase in their consumption.

A consumer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune her reason for opting for a vape was the taste.

“Cigarettes leave a nasty aftertaste, and everyone can tell that you have smoked one, this makes me self-conscious. I started vaping in January 2020 and got addicted in a blink, now I cannot go a day without my vape,” she informed.

The District Health Officer (DHO) Islamabad, Dr Zaeem Zia, termed the rise of vape stores as very concerning.

“Young adults when they consume these products do not realize the long-term harmful impacts of this. These include lung-related diseases, nicotine addiction, and could result in anxiety and other cerebral emergencies,” he told The Express Tribune.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 21st, 2021.

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