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Malaysian Smokers Embrace Vaping for Healthier Lives, Tobacco Use Drops as Vape Gains Popularity

KUALA LUMPUR: An increasing number of Malaysian smokers are switching to vaping to quit smoking tobacco products, a recent carried out by the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) shows.

The Advanced Centre for Addiction Treatment Advocacy president Dr Arifin Fii said that based on the Global Adult Tobacco Survey findings, this is the first time Malaysia has significantly reduced smoking prevalence.

In welcoming the findings of the survey, the Advanced Centre for Addiction Treatment Advocacy (ACATA) noted that it also revealed a significant reduction in tobacco use among Malaysians while the incidence of vape use increased.

According to the report, tobacco use among Malaysians decreased from 23 per cent in 2011 to 19 per cent in 2023, while vape use increased from 0.8 per cent to 5.8 per cent over the same period.

These figures highlight the smokers’ preference for a harm-reduction approach despite the lack of comprehensive regulations that facilitate tobacco harm reduction.

ACATA president Dr Arifin Fii said this is the first time that Malaysia achieved a significant reduction in smoking prevalence.

He said that based on National Health and Morbidity Surveys (NHMS), Malaysian adult smoking prevalence has plateaued over the past three decades, with 24.8 per cent in 1996, 21.5 per cent in 2006, 23.1 per cent in 2011, 22.8 per cent in 2015 and 21.3 per cent in 2019.

“GATS showed that the accelerated
reduction in smoking prevalence coincides with the rapid rise in nicotine vape use,” he said in a statement.

Since there have been no major policy and regulatory changes in tobacco control in the last decade, this rapid decline in smoking prevalence strongly suggests that more smokers are moving away from tobacco and substituting it with the much less harmful vape.

More importantly, this reaffirms that vaping is an effective tool for quitting smoking, which is an important step towards reducing the health risks associated with smoking.

A similar trend in the decline in smoking prevalence is also seen in countries like the United Kingdom (UK), where its smoking prevalence has been significantly reduced through the use of vape.

According to data from the UK’s tobacco control body, Action on Smoking and Health
(ASH), the overall rate of smoking in adults in England in 2022 was 12.7 per cent, down from 13 per cent in 2021.

Meanwhile, the proportion of the population using vapes stood at 9.1 per cent, compared to 7.1 per cent in 2021.

Results from GATS also indicated that despite an increase in healthcare providers giving quit-smoking advice, attempts to quit tobacco have remained stagnant.

Instead, the use of nicotine vaping (14 per cent) became a more popular choice for quitting smoking than medication (10 per cent) or counselling (8 per cent).

This implies that the current tobacco control measures are insufficient
and ineffective.

A more bold and innovative measure, such as a tobacco harm reduction approach using tools like vape, is a very sensible way forward in tobacco control that will
rapidly reduce the prevalence of smoking in Malaysia.

ACATA advocates for more pragmatic policies that support and facilitate smokers to quit smoking by empowering them with knowledge, facts, and awareness to make informed decisions rather than imposing very restrictive and prohibitive measures.

Recent proposed measures for nicotine vaping products indicated by the Ministry of Health, such as a display ban, restricting flavours and standardised packaging guidelines, will be counterproductive and will deter smokers from switching from deadly smoking to much less harmful nicotine vaping.

“Smokers need education and support, not restrictive regulations,” Dr Arifin added.

“By embedding harm reduction strategies into quit-smoking programmes, we can provide smokers with the tools they need to succeed in their efforts to quit,” he said.

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