Put nicotine back on poisons list

1 March 2024

By New Straits Times

LETTERS: The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) urges the government to regulate the promotion and sale of vape gadgets and vape liquids as new generations of young smokers and vapers have been created since the day the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 came into effect in November 2023.

It is disappointing that policymakers surrendered the opportunity to protect children by not adopting the Generational Endgame (GEG) clause in its entirety.

With no monitoring and weak implementation of the law, vape liquids can be bought from stores or online.

If schoolchildren can have access to vape devices, it shows that the bill is ineffective and the problem is getting worse.

Since the passing of the bill, vape products are even more easily accessible with more vape retail outlets selling many vape liquid flavours in attractive packaging, appealing to all age groups.

The root problem is the exemption of nicotine as a controlled substance under the Poisons Act in March 2023.

It means that nicotine-based vape liquids are just like other ordinary consumer product that can be bought without a prescription. This mistake must be corrected.

We urge the government to consider reinstating nicotine in the Poisons Act. A recent article claims that nicotine is not a major cause of smoking-related diseases, that it is the tar that is responsible.

Nicotine is a poison and highly addictive. It is nicotine that smokers and vapers get addicted to despite realising that the chemicals found in cigarettes and vapes inhaled are bad for them.

Moreover, the article was silent on nicotine causing an increase in blood pressure.

We should not subscribe to the misinformation pushed by the industry and its sympathisers to sway decisions on tobacco-control measures.

Instead, we should depend on evidence and facts which show that vaping is the cause of severe damage to blood vessels, permanent lung scarring, brain fog and headaches, and a 1.3 times higher risk of respiratory disease.

On another note, we should maintain the designated smoking zones in force from 2019.

Smokers have to be at least 3m from air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned restaurants, coffee shops, open-air hawker centres and street stalls where smoking is banned.

Smoke does not respect physical boundaries and people have the right not to inhale secondhand smoke or vape aerosols.

The right to clean air is a basic consumer right.

It is this right that the government is required to implement through the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which states that the government must provide smoke-free public spaces and workplaces.

We call on the government to restore what has been taken out of the GEG in the bill and reinstate nicotine in the Poisons Act.

We do not want people to have a nicotine addiction and face premature death from smoking and vaping-related diseases.

Senior education officer and anti-smoking activist,
Consumers Association of Penang