Harm reduction is better than a ban

Anak Halimunan


The haze has come and gone, but there is still a cloud of smoke hanging above the Klang Valley with regards to the issue of e-cigarettes.

Almost every other day or week, there is yet another Malaysian voice clamouring in the mainstream media or on social media for a blanket ban on these devices, also known as vapes. Several deaths in the US that have been tenuously linked to vaping doesn't help matters.

Let's lay some cards on the table first, smoking and vaping are not healthy. No one in their right mind can claim otherwise and no one is claiming such. Certainly, no one is calling for the promotion of these items to potential smokers, especially those who are not legally old enough to smoke.

If you were to look at all the cases and deaths that recently surfaced, it doesn't take a scientist to see that almost all of them resulted from improper use of the devices, either by refilling cartridges when they're not supposed to, using fake e-cigarettes, or using dosages that are way above the recommended levels, among others.

Banning would mean that there are fewer avenues for users to gain proper information, whether to continue smoking or to do so in the safest manner possible.

There is evidence that vaping is less hazardous to an individual's health than normal tobacco products (Yes, there really are many scientific articles out there if you care to look). There is even a formal term to describe this argument, harm reduction.

Of all the arguments for not banning e-cigarettes - whether economic, health or moralistic - it is the harm reduction argument which factually established that using vapes will lead to less medical complications and problems, and even leading some people to successfully transition into non-smokers.

In other words, banning e-cigarettes and similar devices will only deprive current smokers of an alternative that is not only less harmful but which can even help them give up smoking.

This very point was raised by cardiologist Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos at the 3rd Asia Harm Reduction Forum in Seoul recently, where he said that tobacco harm reduction was a necessity and should be considered in curbing the smoking habit.

The view against banning is not a new one. Even from before the 21st century, The Economist has held the opinion that drugs should be legalised, because it is black market activities by drug cartels that directly results in organised crime, turmoil, and killings.

Similarly, banning vapes will not only create a forbidden fruit in the form of temptation as it will simply mean that people will just go back to normal cigarettes, thus solving nothing.

If the government proceeds ahead and enforce the ban, it will do nothing to help anyone at all. Especially not for the smokers who it claims are the reason for taking all these actions.

The government needs to start taking steps and offering solutions for well-considered reasons rather than just doing things reactively, regardless of whether it has to do with e-cigarettes or any other issue that the country is facing.

Let's face it, harm reduction effects do lead to more benefits than people like to admit.

Several alternative actions can be considered and implemented, and smokers in Malaysia have already seen their rights and freedoms curtailed in the past few years.

It may not be an ideal solution but it's still better all-around than banning e-cigarettes and similar devices.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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