SINGAPORE: The number of e-vaporiser or vape cases handled by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has increased “significantly” in recent years, said the agency.
Vape users also include teenagers in secondary school who have the misconception that vaping is a healthier substitute for smoking, a student health adviser told CNA.
In 2021, HSA dealt with 7,593 vape cases, compared with 2,477 cases in 2019.
On Tuesday (May 31), illegal vape products estimated to be worth more than S$1 million went up in smoke at the Tuas South Incineration Plant as part of the agency’s enforcement operations.
Among the seized items incinerated on World No Tobacco Day were an estimated 6,500 e-vaporisers, 83,500 pods and 8,000 e-liquids. They weighed more than a tonne.
The products incinerated on Tuesday were from closed cases from mid-2021 to date.
Last year, authorities destroyed almost 12,300 e-vaporisers, about 4,500 e-liquids and nearly 175,000 pods and components, all of which amounted to an estimated street value of almost S$2 million.
The trend comes despite the laws against vaping.
In Singapore, it is an offence to sell, possess for sale, import or distribute e-vaporisers and related components. Any person who is convicted may face a fine of up to S$10,000 and jail up to six months.
The penalty for possessing and using a vape is a fine of up to S$2,000.
HSA, which works with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to enforce against vaping, noted that some illegal importers have started to change tactics to avoid detection such as concealing them in lighting fixtures.
The agency added that it takes a “stern view” of the smuggling of e-vaporisers and has stepped up vigilance and enforcement actions.
A total of 383 e-vaporiser sellers were caught from 2017 to 2021, HSA said.
HSA monitors online retail sites for the suspected selling of such prohibited products and their refill liquids and cartridges, and works with related e-commerce sites to shut down such listings.
To complement its enforcement operations, HSA said it has collaborated with online platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Carousell to remove illegal postings on tobacco-related products.
Last year, more than 6,800 postings were removed. In the same year, HSA carried out 33 operations relating to the sale of e-vaporisers and related components.
TACKLING VAPING AMONG THE YOUNG
Vape involvement cuts across all age groups, with teenagers in secondary schools also picking up the habit.
They may even start dabbling in the illegal activity in primary school, said Ms Jolyn Koh, a student health adviser who counsels students in secondary schools and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) to manage health issues such as weight management and smoking cessation.
About 10 per cent of about 500 students over the past five years referred to her for smoking-related matters used vape, she told CNA.
The most common reason for vaping is to cut down on smoking, Ms Koh said.
The reasons for them picking up vaping or smoking can be “simply for fun” because their friends are using it, she added.
They may also think that using tobacco products gives them this “perceived maturity” and eventually become addicted to it.
One of the misconceptions that the students have is that vaping is a healthier substitute for smoking.
“(The) misconception that it is healthier is … because of all those fruity flavours because with something that’s fruity, nice and sweet, people tend to think that it’s healthy or harmless,” she said.
HARMS OF VAPING
She added that given that vaping is illegal in Singapore and the products are not regulated, the ingredients stated may not be accurate.
While they may cut down on smoking because they are vaping, they don’t count the number of vape puffs they take and it is hard to say how much nicotine the puffs contain, she said.
“Nicotine content in different pods or different brands varies so it is really hard to tell whether they are really reducing on the nicotine dosage by changing it (their habit) to vaping,” she said.
She added that nicotine has an impact on brain development.
The harms of vaping have been well-documented internationally over the years.
In its most comprehensive review yet of vaping harms published in April this year, the Australian National University Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health found that there was conclusive evidence that e-cigarettes caused poisoning, injuries, burns and immediate toxicity through inhalation, including seizures.
Their use also led to addiction, researchers found. The review found there was strong evidence that e-cigarettes increased tobacco smoking uptake in non-smokers, particularly young people, while there was limited evidence that nicotine e-cigarettes help smokers quit cigarettes.
The review, funded by the federal health department, prompted the Australian Council on Smoking and Health to call for a government ban on the sale and promotion of e-cigarettes to young people.