Singapore could try restricting e-cigarettes as a prescription device to prevent young people from getting addicted: public health professor

Could vaping be a “prescription device” in Singapore? A public health professor says it’s possible (Photo: vapeclubmy / Unsplash)

The debate over e-cigarettes is something that the Singapore government would not want to take chances on, as evidenced by campaigns against the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices in Singapore.

We at Coconuts Singapore also started covering this matter way back in 2015, when we spoke to a secret community of vapers that have been lighting up in Singapore before authorities kicked in with islandwide bans on emerging tobacco products.

However, a public health professor who was invited to give a recent talk at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) School of Public Health said that Singapore’s relatively small size would make it easy to restrict e-cigarettes to just adult smokers looking to quit smoking.

The professor was responding to a question by Professor Chia Kee Seng, founding dean of the NUS public health school, who suggested restricting e-cigarettes as a prescription device instead of letting the general public, including younger people, hold e-cigarettes.

“That would be really terrific if Singapore were to try and experiment with that,” said Professor Kenneth Warner, who is a professor emeritus and dean emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“You have the ability to do something like that here that a lot of places couldn’t do,” he added, referencing to larger countries such as the United States which struggle to regulate usage of e-cigarettes or vaping devices.

However, Professor Warner said the impetus is on public health professionals to “convince the medical profession and smokers that e-cigarettes are a way to try to quit (smoking).”

The talk, which was held on March 6, was part of a public health series of dialogues held by the NUS public health school and was attended by public health professionals, students, and government officials.

In a video uploaded on Wednesday, Professor Warner shared that his research reportedly claims that the benefits of e-cigarettes could outweigh its risks.

“My own research suggests that the likely benefit to adult smokers in terms of helping them to quit (smoking) substantially outweighs the greater risks to young people for starting nicotine use,” said Professor Kenneth Warner, who is a professor emeritus and dean emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

“But I remain open to evidence that could change my mind on that.”

Although Professor Warner did not elaborate on his findings during the talk in the interest of time, a check reveals he made similar points last April where his study revealed that nearly 3.3 million life-years could be saved by the year 2070 due to e-cigarettes.

He did draw links to differing views on the matter, with the mainstream public health community consisting of government officials previously pointing out that e-cigarettes could be a gateway for young people to be cigarette smokers.

However, he noted that a community of researchers and vapers are calling for “harm reduction” products such as vaping devices to be in the hands of smokers who want to quit cigarette smoking.

“There is a rapidly growing body of literature here,” he said.

Chiming in with the Singapore government perspective, Dr Derrick Heng, group director of public health at the Ministry of Health, said that “the door is open” for e-cigarettes or other harm reduction products to be registered as a smoking cessation product under the Health Products Act.

Dr Heng also noted that the local media did not pick this point up in recent coverage on the matter. (Well, we’re doing that now.)

“It’s not that the regulators are not holding the door open… for whatever reason, the tobacco companies don’t think this is the business strategy that they want to pursue,” he said.

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