E-cigarettes could be legal in UAE, but are they healthy?
Parents of teenagers express concerns over legalising e-cigarettes
Legalising of e-cigarettes may encourage more youngsters to take up vaping even while health authorities last month issued a warning that it may lead to seizures and fits.
Medical experts said that children are vulnerable to succumbing to peer pressure and risk damaging their long-term health, even as the impact of vaping is yet unknown.
However, the lifting of the ban since April has allowed authorities to regulate the industry and crack down on the black market, which has allowed thousands of illegally imported devices to be sold under the counter in the UAE.
Parents expressed concerns that the new rules would mean easier access for children.
"Young people at the age of 18 are still growing and they do not know right from wrong," said Farheen Ali, an Indian mother of two working in Dubai. They just want to appear cool in front of their friends," she said. "Allowing of these devices is dangerous and worrying."
Saadia Khan, a mother of two, said that it was easier for young adults to hide vaping from parents. "Cigarettes have an odour and sometimes children are afraid that parents will find out but in the case of vaping, it will be difficult. And we don't know what impact it will have on their health," she added.
Dr Saheer Sainalabdeen, specialist pulmonologist at Medeor Hospital, Dubai, said that some of the side effects of nicotine can cause seizures in the brain, especially among youngsters. "The brain is still developing until the mid-20s and youngsters are more prone to seizures," he said. He also said that vaping was even being done by youngsters who have never smoked a cigarette. "They think it is safe to do so," said Dr Saheer.
"But we don't know what components are being used in e-liquids," he added. He also said that additionally, the flavouring agents being used could cause cancer. "In a cigarette, we know what nicotine can do but in e-cigs, the flavours being used can also cause cancer of the bladder and lungs," said the doctor.
In February, Abdullah Al Maeeni, director-general of the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (Esma), confirmed to Khaleej Times that e-cigarettes were to be legal in the UAE from mid-April. "We issued the regulation to legalise it as the authority is working hard through the development of technical standards and regulations," he said.
Vaping a trend among teenagers
The National Institute of Health in the US found a huge increase in teens' use of vaping devices. In 2018, 37.3 per cent of 12th graders had tried vaping while in 2017, that number stood at 27.8 per cent.
Long-term studies on the physiological effects of vaping are few, but doctors have reported respiratory problems in users. Last month, the Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap) issued an alert following reports that e-cigarettes are causing seizures in youth and young adults.
In a circular issued to all healthcare facilities and professionals, the ministry said that seizures were reported particularly in youngsters. The warning was issued following an alert by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
The ministry's circular also said that healthcare professionals should ask patients about e-cigarette use, particularly when providing care following a seizure.
"It is also urged that the healthcare professionals mention the brand of the e-cigarette, duration and the nature of use," the circular read.
The ministry also called on all health professionals to consider testing cotinine levels, a nicotine metabolite, in addition to the typical urine toxicology screening tests with patients. Additionally, they also should report adverse reactions, the circular added.
The FDA had said that it had identified 35 cases between 2010 and 2019 where youth and young adults had experienced seizures following the use of e-cigarettes. It had said not all cases might have been reported. "We want to be clear that we don't yet know if there's a direct relationship between the use of e-cigarettes and a risk of seizure. We can't yet say for certain that e-cigarettes are causing these seizures," said outgoing FDA Commissioner Dr Scott Gottlieb.
Recent research has found that e-cigarettes are connected to a host of health risks, including being harmful to lung cells and containing chemicals known to be toxic.
Vaping enthusiasts welcome UAE move to regularise devices
Since the new regulations that allow the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping devices were put into place, public reactions have been mixed. While many vaping enthusiasts say it will stop sale of products on the black market, many vapers still remain unsure of its effects on people.
Meanwhile, salespersons in electronic kiosks at Dragon Mart 1, a very popular spot for sale of e-cigarettes or e-liquid, also known as e-juice, said the new regulations have increased sales, and people are more confident while purchasing them.
Similarly, shops in Satwa, Karama, and a few other smokers stores in the city also said the demand for these products have been on the rise since late last year. Vaping enthusiasts buy everything from large vaping mods to small cigarettes such as a Juul.
According to Cleveland Clinic, Martin Health website, an e-liquid cartridge or Juul pods, come in a variety of flavours like cool mint, crème brulee and fruit medley and each pod contains about as much nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. It said: "Juul pods contain a mix of glycerol and propylene glycol, nicotine, benzoic acid and flavourings."
According to store keepers in Satwa, the vape liquids from California-based company Ruthless is very popular among vape lovers. 'Ez Duz It or e-juice on ice provides a combination of watermelon, strawberry and mint flavours.
Dismissing the myth that e-cigarettes are like sheesha, a vaping enthusiast said: "Honestly, it's much better than sheesha."
Nathan, an Indian vaping enthusiast, said its "nothing like sheesha". "It's actually much denser because it's vapour and not smoke. It helped me quit smoking, and I do feel much better."
"Some of the earlier or bigger mods (models) of e-cigarettes 'Lost Vape Triade 300W' or the 'Smok Micro ONE Kit Vape E-Cig Mod' have always been available in the UAE," said a shopkeeper in Dragon Mart on condition of anonymity. "You could also buy it on websites such as Ubuy for anything between Dh70 to Dh300," he explained. The shops would supply e-liquid or juice bottles for Dh50 per 60ml bottle.
"Many mods now have digital touch screens. They are the most expensive; however, they produce huge amounts of vapour and vaping enthusiasts love using it," said another shopkeeper in Satwa. "Once people get into the habit of vaping, they begin investing in higher quality mods and e-juice. For many, it is also an alternative to smoking," he added.
An Indian vaping enthusiast based in Silicon Oasis said: "It definitely helped me quit cigarettes. However, I am still a little unsure about an e-cigarette's ill effects. I am hoping it would really be a better alternative. I prefer vaping because my lungs feel clearer, I don't feel nauseous or light-headed, and it smells much better than cigarettes."
Louai Kanjo, a Syrian national, said: "Legalising the use and sale of e-cigarettes is the best way to stop the black market that was filled with materials of unknown sources. It will as well give the users an alternative to traditional cigarettes which not only have the known-by-now health risks, but also is a huge factor in littering public spaces and open waters."
He also said cigarettes cause massive pollution, and alternatives like e-cigarettes would at least keep the environment clean. "Cigarette butts are the biggest source of pollution to the oceans around the world. E-cigarettes obviously do not have that problem," he said.