Vaping has become a popular trend among teenagers and young adults in recent years. While many consider it to be a harmless alternative to smoking, there is growing evidence to suggest that vaping can lead to drug-taking and addiction.
Case in point, Ridzuan Ahmad, a 15-year-old who started vaping three years ago, shared his experience with Bernama. He initially tried vaping out of curiosity but soon developed a dependence on the liquid nicotine, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to vape. However, what started as an addiction to vaping escalated further when his friend introduced him to vaping magic mushroom-laced e-liquids. Ridzuan’s friend began exhibiting worrying signs of drug use, such as pale complexion and bloodshot eyes. Despite Ridzuan’s efforts to intervene, his friend refused to quit, leading to strain in their friendship.
The use of drug-laced e-liquids is a concerning trend among vape users, particularly youths. Alongside magic mushrooms, other drugs found in e-liquids include methamphetamines, amphetamines, heroin, codeine, Percocet, and Ritalin. Several health-related non-governmental organizations and experts have expressed alarm at this situation. The Malaysian Substance Abuse Council has raised concerns about the sale of unregistered vape devices and the lack of regulatory control, making it easier for youths to access drug-laced e-liquids.
Associate Prof Dr Rusdi Abd Rashid, a lecturer at Universiti Malaya Centre for Addiction Science Studies, emphasizes the urgent need for increased controls on the sale of magic mushrooms. Magic mushrooms are expensive, with a 10ml bottle of liquid laced with mushrooms costing RM150 compared to ordinary vape liquids priced at around RM15. Some drug-laced e-juices are even sold under the guise of popular fruity or creamy flavors.
Magic mushrooms contain psilocybin, the active substance responsible for hallucinogenic effects. Ridzuan recalls encountering many individuals in his housing area who use drug-laced vape liquids, including cannabis-infused ones. The situation is particularly concerning as they resort to stealing or applying pressure on their parents for money to fund their habit, often leading to violent or rebellious behavior when their demands are not met.
Ridzuan’s experience highlights the urgent need for robust legislation to regulate e-smoking and prevent new generations from falling victim to nicotine addiction and subsequent drug abuse. The current Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, aimed at prohibiting the sale of tobacco products and smoking substances to individuals born after January 1, 2007, is pending approval by the Dewan Rakyat. Experts and health NGOs voiced their frustration at the delay and urged the Ministry of Health (MOH) to reconsider its decision to exempt nicotine from the purview of the Poisons Act.
According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2022, adolescent drug use and experimentation remain prevalent in Malaysia. The survey revealed that 60,000 adolescents were reported to be using narcotics, while an additional 106,000 had experimented with drugs. The accessibility of vape products to schoolchildren is particularly alarming, with products sold openly near schools for prices as low as RM20 (800 inhalations). Specialty vape stores, social media, and certain e-commerce platforms make obtaining these products easy, contributing to the rising trend.
The availability of vape products and the lack of regulations are major factors contributing to the increase in adolescent vaping. The deceptive packaging and resemblance of some e-cigarette devices to toys, sanitizers, or candies further put young children at risk of accidental ingestion and nicotine poisoning. The MOH has reported cases of acute nicotine poisoning, with seven cases involving children reported this year alone.
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) education officer and anti-smoking activist NV Subbarow emphasized the need for the government to take immediate action to control the sale of vape products. He cited a CAP study revealing that 3,000 out of 5,000 college and university students admitted to being vape users. More alarmingly, 75% of these individuals were non-smokers before trying vaping. With the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill still pending, Subbarow stressed the urgency of preventing the younger generation from becoming nicotine addicts.
It is clear that vaping is not as harmless as it may initially seem. The rise in drug-laced e-liquids and subsequent drug-taking among vape users, particularly teenagers and young adults, is a major concern. The need for strict regulations and control over the sale and distribution of vape products cannot be overstated. The impending legislation and subsequent enforcement will be crucial in protecting the youth from falling into the trap of nicotine addiction and drug abuse.