A woman smokes an electronic cigarette.
Dubai - Plan to ease ban follows recent recommendations by the WHO
The UAE is laying down regulations for e-cigarettes which may ease the ban on the sale of the product in the country. In January this year, authorities from Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma) sent a draft technical regulation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) notifying them of the country's intention to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes.
The document that was sent to the WTO and a copy of which is with Khaleej Times states that the objective of the regulation is to protect human health by ensuring that quality products are available in the market.
Currently, the sale of e-cigarettes is banned in the UAE since it follows the same cautious stance adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The move to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes is most likely based on recent recommendations from the WHO that examines the emerging evidence on the health impacts of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), of which electronic cigarettes are the most common prototype.
Repeated attempts to get a confirmation from the Ministry of Health (MoH) or Esma on the issue failed.
The notification - which is a standard procedure before a tobacco product can be marketed in any country that is a signatory to the WTO - was issued on January 6 by Esma. The final comments on the issue were due to be given by March 2015. It is not clear what the final comments on the issue were.
According to WHO, "ENDS represent an evolving frontier, filled with promise and threat for tobacco control." E-cigarettes and similar devices are frequently marketed by manufacturers as aids to quit smoking, or as healthier alternatives to tobacco, and require global regulation in the interest of public health.
Until now the UAE health ministry has banned the sale of e-cigarettes because experts are not convinced of their safety. The devices work by atomising a liquid solution of nicotine, glycol and glycerin, which the user inhales. The long-term effects on the lungs are not known, they say.
"E-cigarettes are considered as harmful as tobacco and not as a smoking cessation tool," said a source from the ministry. "Currently conflicting studies are going on this matter which cannot be used as justifications to allow products into the country," added the source.
E-cigarettes, however, are being sold on the sly across the country. They are being imported illegally and are freely available in places such as Dragon Mall in Dubai and even being delivered at homes.
Not 100% safe, says specialist
Dr Ahmad Fakhri Al Himairi, Specialist Cardiologist, Canadian Specialist Hospital says e-cigarettes cannot be considered safe. "Vaping utilises Propylene Glycol or Vegetable Glycerin based liquid which is mixed with small amounts of nicotine and food grade flavouring that then get vaporised in a small battery powered atomiser and this then simulates the experience of smoking," he explained.
"The vapour created is inhaled and exhaled much like cigarette smoke therefore the term 'vaping' as opposed to 'smoking', he said. "Please keep in mind that vaping and electronic cigarettes are not designed to be 100 per cent safe. As mentioned, they are designed for adults to continue enjoying nicotine at a reduced harm and guilt levels. Furthermore, while it is not categorised as carcinogen nicotine in its pure raw form but it is still essentially a poison and can increase blood pressure and heart rate in humans," he added.
He said that there were several studies done on the safety of the product. However, an independent study released in the US this week states that these electronic devices that vaporise liquids containing nicotine expose users to high levels of cancer-causing agents, including formaldehyde.
But contrary to some advertising claims that the vapour is harmless, the Centre for Environment Health in Unites States has found alarmingly high levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, known as carcinogens that increase cancer risk, getting sucked into the lungs.
Dr Ahmad Fakhri Al Himairi