WHO wake-up call: children hooked as governments sleepwalk in e-cigarette epidemic

14 December 2023, Bangkok: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) echoes the World Health Organization’s (WHO) call for urgent action to control e-cigarettes to protect children and the general population. These products are harmful and not effective for quitting tobacco use. WHO’s latest statement says, “E-cigaretteswith nicotine are highly addictive and alarming evidence has emerged of adverse population health effects.”

WHO states e-cigarettes have been aggressively promoted to young people through social media and influencers. Children have been specially targeted through the use of cartoon characters, the availability of at least 16,000 flavours, and e-cigarettes that resemble toys, sweets, and school supplies.

WHO’s dire warning is illustrated in countries that allow sales of e-cigarettes such as in Canada, where e-cigarette use among 16–19-year-olds has doubled between 2017-2022, and in England (the United Kingdom) where youth use has tripled in the past three years.

A similar situation exists among ASEAN countries that allow sales of e-cigarettes, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

“Malaysia recently delisted nicotine as a poison and legalised sales of e-cigarettes, and now e- cigarette use prevalence among teens 13-15 years (24% boys and 6% girls) is higher than teen smoking prevalence which is 10.8% boys and 1.7% girls. Similarly, in the Philippines e-cigarette use prevalence among teens is 14.1% (20.9% boys, and 7.5% girls), while in Indonesia 11.8% of students use e-cigarettes,” said Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of SEATCA.

According to WHO, “Whilst long-term health effects are not fully understood, it has been established that they generate toxic substances, some of which are carcinogenic, and others increase the risk of heart and lung disorders. Use of e-cigarettes can also affect brain development and lead to learning disorders for young people.”

“These products should be banned because they are harmful and prolonging the tobacco pandemic. Claims of harm reduction are unproven and deceptive. It is more accurate to say this is harm initiation for youths that have never smoked and harm substitution for smokers trying to quit,” said Dorotheo.

SEATCA’s Asian Tobacco Industry Interference Index confirms WHO’s caution that the tobacco industry lobbies extremely aggressively, directly and through front groups, for industry-friendly policies to allow sales of these harmful products, as in the Philippines and Malaysia, and are lobbying to roll-back bans on e-cigarettes in Thailand and Lao PDR.

Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Singapore, and Thailand have banned these products along with about 40 other countries. WHO says 88 countries have no minimum age at which e-cigarettes can be bought and 74 countries have no regulations for these harmful products.

Contact Information:

Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA
Email: val@seatca.org
Mobile: +639173124600

Relevant Links:

  1. Policy Brief: Safeguarding Public Health: Strict Regulation of Electronic Smoking Devices
  2. SEATCA Paper: Nicotine is a poison


SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged bygovernments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.


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