Investing in our children
As the world gears up to celebrate World Children’s Day on November 20, 2023, under the poignant theme, “Investing in our future means investing in our children,” it is essential to spotlight a pressing concern. The escalating trend of smoking and vaping among our youth is an immediate threat we must confront head-on.
According to Dr Siti Idayu Hasan, a tobacco control researcher from the Nicotine Addiction Research and Collaborating Group (NARCC) and an Impact Officer at Universiti Malaya Community Engagement Centre (UMCares), much like our current generational endgame efforts – the vision to eliminate smoking in the next generation – we must focus our resources, not just on battling the tobacco giants of today but also on the vaping industries that stealthily target our children.
The latest data from Malaysia provides compelling evidence of this public health threat. A significant percentage of Malaysian teenagers are now experimenting with, if not addicted to, smoking or vaping. The current percentage of 13-17-year-olds who smoke stands at 6.2%, down from 13.8% in 2017. While this decrease is a positive sign, we still have a challenging journey ahead.
While we once worried about the traditional cigarette, today’s enemy has evolved, with e-cigarettes (also known as vape) now becoming the fashionable norm among the young. Masked under the pretence of being “safer” and “trendier,” these devices have entrapped our children. A staggering 14.9% of teenagers have experimented with or regularly use vapes, a sharp rise from 9.8% in 2017. More alarming, vaping is twice as prevalent among teenage boys as smoking, and for teenage girls, this figure is nearly fourfold.
She also said, if we are to truly invest in our children, our efforts must go beyond short-term solutions. The generational endgame strategy, which aims to phase out tobacco and smoking products and create a smoke-free generation, must be a shared vision among parents, educators, lawmakers, and the community at large.
According to Assoc. Prof Dr Nur Amani Ahmad Tajuddin, a Family Medicine Specialist and deputy coordinator of NARCC, Universiti Malaya, we must work together with parents and teachers to curb the habit of vaping, as vaping in schools is a huge concern among the educators. What is more worrying, many parents are still ignorant or perceive vaping as a safer alternative to vaping, and does not stop this behaviour from their children.
Our children and adolescent are the vulnerable group easily influenced by their peers or adults to embark on smoking and e-cigarettes. Their curiosity may harm their physical health and mental health by early exposure to cigarette smoke and e-cigarette.
Infants, children, and adolescents are exposed by their parents or immediate family members, making them exposed as a second-hand and third-hand smoker, and in this case also applies to e-cigarette. Parents who smoke in the car even when the cars are wind down still pose a high risk to their children.
Children and infants are more prone to the detrimental effects of cigarette smoke such as middle ear infection, recurrent lung infection, poorly controlled asthma, learning difficulties, poor growth development, attention disorders, poor school performance, poor sports performance, and sudden infant death syndrome.
Nicotine is found in conventional cigarettes and almost all e-cigarette products that will cause addiction in the developing brain of children and adolescent. Nicotine as the primary substance contributing to addiction has strong evidence as a gateway to illicit substance abuse which is very dangerous to the physical, mental health and their future.
Nicotine has been shown to cause premature aging of the skin, increase in heart rate leading to high blood pressure, cancers of the larynx, throat, lungs, increase risk of gastric problems, pancreas, and stomach cancers as well as diabetes and stroke.
Flavourings, additives, and colourings in the e-cigarettes are harmful, as e-juices have more than 200 chemical constituents. Studies has also shown that e-cigarettes cause decline in sports performances by reducing the lung capacity thus leading to problems such as obesity, whereby as we know, Malaysia has the highest rate of obesity already in the south-east Asia.
Smoking and vaping have been linked to anxiety and depression among children and adolescents which can lead to functional impairment, learning difficulties, poor academic performance, social problems, and drug abuse.
E-cigarette products have exploded, causing permanent physical damage to users as well as poisoning young children who accidentally consume the e-cigarette juice, thus advocating for a stop to all methods of smoking is a must at this point of time and in the future
Our schools must be equipped to discuss the dangers of smoking and vaping. It is time to go beyond the textbook and incorporate interactive sessions, real-life stories, and peer-led discussions.
As parents, it is our duty to guide our children. Open discussion about the dangers of smoking and vaping, combined with our own positive role modelling, can make a difference. We too as parents, must be wary and alert of the social media contents our children and teenagers are exposed to, as e-cigarettes are irresponsibly and openly being advertised on those platforms, mainly to entice children and teenagers to become new generation of smokers, in replace of those dying from the effects of smoking.
Our children and teenagers have easy access to e-cigarettes, especially after the nicotine has been delisted from the Poison’s Act on April 1, 2023. Although there are notices to say cigarettes and vaping products are only to be sold for people 18 years and above, teenagers could get access to it at various vendors without their identification being verified. Our lawmakers must strengthen laws on tobacco and vaping product sales, especially to minors. Strict penalties for vendors who break these rules are crucial. The Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023 need to be passed as soon as possible.
Community and school-based programs can play an instrumental role in reshaping perceptions about smoking and vaping. Grassroots efforts that emphasize the dangers and offer support for those trying to quit can make a considerable difference. Local communities should be involved in protecting their young members from these hazards.
As World Children’s Day is near approaching, let us renew our commitment to our children’s future. The theme “Investing in our future means investing in our children” is not just a slogan; it’s a call to action. Smoking and vaping, are equally dangerous to the wellbeing and health of our offsprings. We are the protectors of our children and to truly invest in them, we must ensure they are equipped with knowledge, support, and the resilience to say ‘NO’ to smoking and vaping. Let us rally together, for the sake of our children and the generations to come, to bring about the generational endgame against smoking and vaping.
For further details, please contact:
1) Dr. Siti Idayu Hasan, member of Nicotine Addiction Research and Collaborating Group (NARCC) and an Impact Officer at Universiti Malaya Community Engagement Centre (UMCares)
2) Assoc. Prof Dr Nur Amani Ahmad Tajuddin, deputy coordinator of NARCC and Family Medicine Specialist, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya ([email protected])