Vape usage peaks among adolescents

E-cigarettes containing nicotine are sold openly to teenagers across major cities in the country


A couple of decades ago, purchasing the latest model of the PlayStation was the locus of competition among nearly all middle-class school going children since in the absence of adequate extracurricular opportunities in schools, playing video games was pretty much the only hobby piquing the adventurous minds of budding adolescents. Fast forward to today, where exposure to social media has allowed Generation Alpha, or children born during the 2010s, to have instantaneous access to a wide array of digital experiences, scoring a record high on an hour long video game can perhaps no longer offer the desired wave of euphoria guaranteed by a painless puff of vape.

An example can be taken of Faraz, Usama, and Ifham, three teenage boys spotted smoking vape near the Lines Area in Karachi, who upon being questioned by the correspondent on their addiction boldly retorted that their parents too were aware of their indulgence and had no qualms about the matter. “Vape is sold in a large variety of flavours and is also less harmful than cigarettes hence we enjoy smoking it,” the boys unabashedly responded.

Like the three boys in Karachi, miles away in the northern part of the country, Farhan Khan, a student at a local educational institution in Peshawar was found involved in a similar addiction. “The trend of using vape has grown tremendously among youth over the past few years, to the point where now its seen as a fashionable addiction, albeit it is more expensive than a normal tobacco cigarette,” shared Khan.

Similarly, Amna, another student from the country’s cultural capital, Lahore, revealed how peer pressure from her friends incited her to start taking vape. “At first, I was not aware of vape, until one of my friends gifted it to me in various flavours. Now, I have been using it for a year. We use it secretly from our teachers since if we are caught, the device would be confiscated and our parents would be summoned,” said Amna.

According to Ahmed Raza Tayyab, a sociologist based in Karachi, the trend of smoking e-cigarettes is increasing drastically among the youth in the country. “In fact, it has settled in people’s minds that vape is not harmful while the use of cigarettes is harmful. Earlier, vape used to be sold in a few large stores or malls only, but now it is easily available everywhere at the level of neighbourhoods. I have even observed many parents allowing their children to smoke vape instead of helping them quit the addiction,” shared Tayyab.

Busting the popular myth that vape was a safer option than tobacco cigarettes, Dr Noor Mohammad Soomro, a cancer specialist and former head of the Civil Hospital’s Department of Oncology stressed the fact that vape contained liquid nicotine, which could have carcinogenic properties. “Vape smoke directly affects the airways. Both cigarettes and vape affect the lungs and can cause a host of respiratory issues including lung cancer,” asserted Dr Soomro.

“Parents should play a pro-active role in helping their children steer clear from such vices. They must pay attention to the signs of vape addiction which may include increased thirst and urination, irritability and mood swings, difficulty concentrating, unusual odour’s in clothing or breath, increased heart rate and blood pressure, difficulty coping with stress and withdrawal from social activities. By addressing vaping early on, parents can help their child avoid the long-term health consequences of the addiction,” said Dr Maria Rodriguez, a drug control and rehabilitation expert from Peshawar.

Clinical psychologist, Fatima Tahir was of the opinion that many adolescents engaged in the activity as a means of crafting their own identity during the formative years of their life. “The teenage years of any child’s life are a critical stage since they face immense pressure to fit in among other friends. These days children who smoke e-cigarettes are seen as being more progressive by the peers. However, vape addiction can soon pave the way for indulgence into other substances like alcohol and marijuana. Therefore, parents should adopt a balanced, friendly attitude towards their children. They should neither allow them so much freedom that they go astray, nor should they be so strict in their demeanour that the child decides to rebel,” advised Tahir.

This dilemma of parenting is not solely facing parents in Pakistan since a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) claims that 88 countries in the world do not have a minimum age for purchase of electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery system (ENNDS) while 74 countries have no regulations for these harmful products, which are sold in 16,000 different flavours.

“50 flavours are readily available in Pakistan, most of which are imported from China and the UAE. Vape is available from Rs1,000 to Rs20,000 or more depending on the size of the bottle,” claimed Akram, a vape dealer.

On the other hand, customs officials maintained their stance that operations were underway to stop the smuggling of all e-cigarettes including vape into the country.



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