As vaping continues to grow worldwide, many nations are taking the unprecedented step of banning the use and sale of e-cigarettes altogether. Many of these countries are predominantly in Asia and remain some of the most popular tourist destinations for people across the world. This begs the question; are holiday goers going to be prosecuted for vaping abroad, particularly when it’s advocated for by the NHS and PHE as a highly effective means of quitting smoking?
We try to understand the mindset which has lead to the implementation of regressive policies towards e-cigarettes, whilst also highlighting the miseducation around vaping in the UK, most notably through GPs and healthcare professionals, which has ultimately set the tone for negative connotations worldwide.
Even with the TPD regulations approved by European Parliament back in 2014, vaping is permitted in most European countries with restrictions including bottle sizes, atomiser capacities and nicotine strengths. Many nations such as Belarus and Macedonia, however, have chosen to not declare any information or set in place clear regulations regarding vaping laws. This ultimately translates to a possible free-for-all for citizens and tourists to use and sell e-cigarettes at their own peril which potentially makes supplying products to minors a lot easier.
In Asia however, it’s a completely different story with countries such as Japan adopting a non-regulation policy for non-nicotine e-cigarettes (which means they can be sold to minors willingly) but a somewhat contradictory blanket ban on all vape products containing nicotine. In South Korea, the sale and use of e-cigarettes is legal but is heavily taxed to the point where most people are pushed to the more cost-effective option of smoking tobacco.
In the popular holiday destinations of Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Thailand, vaping is simply illegal and can lead to hefty prison sentences. In Malaysia, though it’s not legally binding, the country is governed under the strict Islamic code of Fatwa, which sees vaping as forbidden and unacceptable due to the bad smells and alleged ‘harmful health effects’. In India, the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Kashmir to name a few have banned e-cigarettes under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940. The union government have been led to believe that vaping has cancer-causing properties, which will likely result in a nationwide ban in the near future.
Furthermore, Hong Kong has recently announced a proposal to ban the importation and possession of e-cigarettes, brought upon by a survey conducted by parents of school students who voted in favour of banning vape products. With over 570,000 UK citizens visiting Hong Kong last year, an estimated 6% (35,000) of those are going to be vapers which means they run the risk of imprisonment or will have to leave their device at home and get their fix from conventional cigarettes instead.
Clive Bates, a former director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) and prolific anti-smoking campaigner says,
“I just can't believe they are thinking of banning e-cigarettes in Hong Kong. If a country wanted to destroy its hard-won reputation for innovation, technology and hospitality, it would prohibit new and better ways of quitting smoking and drive away visitors who have embraced this alternative to smoking.”
If you’re planning on visiting any of these countries, unfortunately, it is highly recommended to not bring any vape products with you, at the risk of prosecution or detainment.
The worrying aspect of this boils down to the fact that the governments and experts in these countries genuinely believe e-cigarettes to be as, if not more, harmful than tobacco. The NHS is seen as one of the most well-respected and credible healthcare institutions in the world yet even their advocation for vaping when trying to quit smoking isn’t agreed with internationally.
Vaping is seen as a highly effective method for quitting smoking tobacco according to PHE (Public Health England), a close affiliate of the NHS, yet even though this should effectively encourage people to make the switch, an alarming 93% of GPs and healthcare professionals were unaware of PHE’s position that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.
Martin Cullip, a trustee of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) an advisory body for combating harmful tobacco consumption, states,
“This is a common theme I’ve come across before where many GPs believe vaping to be harmful. Vaping takes most of the harmful chemicals out, so you’re delivering the nicotine in a much cleaner form. There’s no reason why doctors cannot recommend these devices but if they are not aware of the reduction in harm then they’re not going to do that.”
This is rather concerning and obviously relates to the more holistic view internationally surrounding e-cigarettes. A common theme is a belief that vaping can lead to smoking and is deemed to be a ‘gateway’, however this is completely unfounded. A recent study by Cardiff University found that an increase in e-cigarette use has led to many young people viewing smoking in a negative manner. The research indicates that the percentage of young people who reported that smoking cigarettes was ‘normal’, has declined from 70% in 1999 to 27% in 2015. They also found that it started dropping at a faster rate from 2011 onwards, which is approximately when the e-cigarette boom ensued.
Arguably more needs to be done by the NHS other than catchy social campaigns and initiatives, possibly in the form of properly educating GPs and healthcare workers on a mass scale regarding the benefits and harm reduction of vaping. This will possibly lead to an increasingly positive outlook within the UK, potentially adding to the estimated over 3 million vapers already, which in turn could possibly stretch internationally to put more pressure on countries who perceive e-cigarettes as damaging and ethically immoral.
Whether or not this will be carried through remains to be seen, yet it’s evident that people shouldn’t be punished for trying other safer, more proven, alternatives than smoking whether you’re a citizen or a tourist.