Health Promotion Board’s attempt to scare people off vaping backfires

Photo: VapeClubMY via Unsplash
Photo: VapeClubMY via Unsplash

In case you haven’t seen ‘em in your news feed, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) is on a social media crusade against the usage of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices in Singapore. In case you don’t know what vaping devices are, they’re handheld, battery-powered gizmos that deliver nicotine by the inhalation of vapor that’s produced when a flavored liquid solution (typically known as ‘juice’) gets heated up.

Singapore, as you’d know, is very much against smoking and any of its alternatives, and that has seen the outlawing of sheesha, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes in the past couple of years. With vaping facing a resurgence among millennials thanks to the slick, easy-to-use Juul e-cigarettes, the HPB has been on a warpath to demonize the smoking alternatives as of late. Their “Roving Juice Bar E-Cigarette Prevention Campaign” was launched last week to detail the inherent dangers of the ingredients that make up vaping juices. One of which, according to HPB, is formaldehyde, which is considered a carcinogen (it causes cancer) and can be found in embalming fluids like formalin.

Because formaldehyde can be found in vape juice, you should be very afraid of inhaling them, says HPB.

Though the intent is noble (vaping is still a risk to health, even though it might not be as bad as actual cigarettes), the logic is flawed. Netizens bashed HPB’s Facebook post for its dramatic attempt to justify why e-cigarettes are Evil (with a capital E) and should be banned.

Complexities

Though spiffy ad campaigns are great in delivering basic information crafted to scare people, they don’t really flesh out the complexities of the issue.

For one, the ingredients that that go into vape juice (except the nicotine) are non-toxic. The liquid solution consists of propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine (both are used in edible items) and food flavorings for taste. The component that gets people hooked, of course, is the highly-addictive nicotine.

Compared to the numerous other chemicals that go inside traditional cigarettes (arsenic, lead, tar), having nicotine delivered through vaping seems like a much safer alternative for proponents of e-cigarettes.

But formaldehyde as an ingredient that goes inside vape juice? Nah. Formaldehyde-containing compounds known as hemiacetals are actually only present in the vapor — caused when the device heats up propylene glycol. Since there has never been a cancer study with hemiacetals, scientists don’t know for sure if the compounds are actually dangerous.

“A precautionary measure”

While the debate rages on about the exact health implications of e-cigarettes, Singapore would rather err on the side of caution. The Ministry of Health (MOH) has mainly taken issue with how young kids could be seduced into trying out e-cigarettes, which MOH asserts to be gateways to actual cigarettes.

“Youth who have used e-cigarettes are more likely to become regular smokers,” said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin in a speech last week.

“This is what is known as the ‘gateway effect’, where e-cigarette users eventually transitioned to smoking cigarettes, or continue to use both tobacco products interchangeably as dual users.”

Acknowledging that no data is available on the long-term health effects of vaping, Amrin affirmed that the government’s stance is to not take any chances.


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