KUALA LUMPUR: The exclusion of nicotine from the Poisons Act 1952, which allows it to be used in vapes and e-cigarettes, will create a generation of youngsters addicted to the stimulant.

Malaysian Council of Tobacco Control (MCTC) deputy president Roslizawati Md Ali said nicotine is highly addictive, and studies have shown that some children can get addicted even after the first puff, while it could take several puffs for others.

She added that overall, individuals can get addicted within 72 hours of limited, intermittent use.

“Our priority is to protect children from the effects and long-term health problems associated with nicotine use,” she said, adding that it is estimated there are about 600,000 children aged 11 to 18 who are vaping or using e-cigarettes.

“A two-year-old girl suffered acute nicotine poisoning and a 16-year-old girl with a three-year vaping history died. The child suffered neurological problems with impaired motor and speech functions.

“It is still unknown if this is going to be a short-term or long-term issue,” Roslizawati said during a press conference on the judicial review of removing nicotine from the Poisons Act.

She said it is the public and the government who will bear the cost of looking after such addicts as the health impact on them will be long term.

Roslizawati said young children of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and questioned what is going to happen to the country if there is a generation of children who are addicted to nicotine.

The National Poison Centre said 77 cases of nicotine exposure to e-cigarettes or vape had been reported by 2015, while as of June this year, seven cases were reported, including five involving children.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said nicotine can harm an adolescent’s brain, which keeps developing until about the age of 25. Using nicotine in adolescence can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning, mood and impulse.

It said each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections – or synapses – are built between brain cells.

Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Nicotine changes the way synapses are formed. Using nicotine in adolescence may also increase the risk of future addiction to other drugs.

Roslizawati said one of the most worrying factors is that vapes and e-cigarettes containing nicotine can be sold to children after the Health Ministry published a gazette notice on April 1 stating that nicotine liquids and gels used in e-cigarettes and vape products had been granted exemption from poison controls.

She said people have been asking for statistics about the danger of vaping and e-cigarettes after the devices began to be sold here in 2015, adding that the dangers of nicotine were already well documented.

Roslizawati also said such devices were being sold near schools and anyone can buy them, while pointing out that nicotine is known to be more addictive than opium, which is illegal in Malaysia.

MCTC secretary-general Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah said vaping industry players have been promoting findings of a study by Public Health England that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than conventional cigarettes, adding that it was only part of the story, as they excluded the rest of the statement.

He said the full statement after the 95% part was: “.. and when supported by smoking cessation service, help most smokers to quit tobacco altogether.”

On Friday, three civil society groups – MCTC, Malaysian Green Lung Association and Voice of the Children – filed a judicial review to challenge the government’s directive to remove nicotine from the Poisons Act 1952.

MCTC president Dr M. Murallitharan said the decision to file the judicial review was not taken lightly and the court case does not target anyone.

“We only want to protect the public, especially children, from the harmful effects of nicotine,” he said, adding that the group is apolitical.

“We only made this decision to take legal action after exhausting all available avenues and working with all the different branches of government to avoid the delisting of nicotine. The judicial review was only filed on the very last day before the timeframe for the legal option ended.

“MCTC cannot wait for the next sitting of Parliament to approve the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, and had to act now because by then, another 5,000 to 10,000 children could become addicted to nicotine.”

Murallitharan called on the Health Ministry and the Attorney-General’s Chambers not to contest the leave as MCTC’s sole interest is to protect public health, especially that of children.

He also urged public members to donate a symbolic RM1 each to show their support in the fight against nicotine.

If one million people can make such a donation, it will show members of Parliament the strength of support against legalising nicotine.

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