80,000 Lives Lost Annually: The Grave Threat of E-Cigarettes to Thai Youth and the Urgent Need for Stringent Controls

                    “Cigarettes” cause a health crisis with devastating effects on both smokers and those around them. The global death toll indicates that over 8 million people die due to smoking each year, and approximately 65,000 children worldwide lose their lives before the age of 5 as a result of exposure to “secondhand smoke”. In Thailand, more than 80,000 lives each year are claimed by cigarettes and secondhand smoke. Of particular concern is the targeting of teenagers through the promotion of “vaping”, leaving children and adolescents vulnerable.

                    According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) among Thai youth in the year 2022, the prevalence of e-cigarettes among children and adolescents sharply increased from 3.3% in 2015 to 17.6% in 2022, marking a 5.3-fold increase. This finding aligns with the 2024 survey on e-cigarette usage among 152 primary school students in the central region. The survey revealed that up to 15% of fourth and fifth graders were encouraged to try e-cigarettes by family members. Additionally, 73% of students who had used e-cigarettes reported being persuaded by family, friends, and community members. “E-cigarettes” are easily accessible to children and adolescents as a result of “deceptions” stemming from the marketing strategies of the tobacco industry, particularly online advertisements, directly targeting and manipulating children and adolescents. This is also because family members, friends, and community members encourage children and adolescents to try e-cigarettes. Their captivating appearance, aroma, over 15,000 enticing flavors, and modern designs that appeal to teenagers contribute to their appeal.

                    Common deceptions which directly contribute to the increased use of e-cigarettes among children and adolescents are, for example, “E-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes”, “E-cigarettes are intended for smoking cessation”, “E-cigarettes contain fewer toxins”, and “E-cigarettes are harmless to those around you”.

                    In fact, e-cigarettes contain high levels of nicotine, which contribute to addiction and make quitting even more difficult. Those who quit e-cigarettes are 4.4 times more likely to revert to smoking traditional cigarettes. Additionally, the addictive substances in nicotine have an impact on brain development and learning, and can contribute to the development of cancer. The World Health Organization and the American Lung Association have determined that e-cigarettes are less effective for quitting smoking, compared to other methods, and do not facilitate smoking cessation.

                    E-cigarettes do not contain harmful substances. In fact, “nicotine” is a toxin which spurs the growth of cancer cells and promotes the formation of blood vessels, feeding the growing tumor, and accelerating the growth of cancerous tissues. In addition, it accelerates the hardening of blood vessels, resulting in lung diseases and other illnesses. E-cigarettes contain other substances, such as “ammonia”, which accelerates the absorption of nicotine into the brain, “hydrocarbon compounds” found in cigarette smoke known to induce cancer and increase the risks of lung, oral, and esophageal cancers, “heavy metals” which have detrimental effects on various bodily systems such as the brain, kidneys, and lungs, “arsenic” which interferes with blood circulation and, if consumed in large amounts, can affect blood coagulation and trigger excessive bleeding, and “propylene glycol” which damages the eyes, disrupts the eye’s fluid layer, and may induce macular degeneration.

                    The dangers of vaping are no less than smoking traditional cigarettes, and the emitted vapor poses health risks to bystanders. Specifically, it affects the respiratory system, causing irritation in the nose, throat, and lungs, and increases the risks of pneumonia or bronchitis. Furthermore, individuals exposed to e-cigarette vapor may experience the increasing risks of cardiovascular diseases since certain chemicals can damage the cardiovascular system.

                    The Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) has recognized the health crisis faced by traditional cigarette and e-cigarette smokers. Nevertheless, what is more worrisome is the alarmingly growing interest in e-cigarettes among children and adolescents. The prevalence of e-cigarettes in this age group who has never smoked is a ticking time bomb. Once addicted to e-cigarettes, the chances of quitting become increasingly slim for these individuals. ThaiHealth, therefore, has joined efforts with its networks to enhance understanding, promote vigilance, and enforce laws. These include various organizations, such as the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation, the Thailand Youth Institute (TYI), the Office of the Consumer Protection Board (OCPB), and Smart Network Smart Community. They are engaged in initiating campaigns to raise awareness and educate the public about e-cigarettes. For example, “Uniting the Power of Gen Z: Staying Ahead of the E-Cigarette Company Strategies” aims to educate students and the general public about the dangers of e-cigarettes through online and offline media. The “Smoke Free School Innovation” initiative aims to promote e-cigarette-free schools through various activities, including contests, training programs, and educational sessions. Additionally, the initiative “Local Smoke-Free Communities: Creating a Smoke-Free Society and Reducing Health Risks at the Community Level” is being implemented. The exhibition “Vaping: Thrills That Kill – The Untold Truth about E-Cigarettes” is designed to inform children, adolescents, and the public about the effects of e-cigarettes and to reveal the truth about their dangers.

                    E-cigarettes are a grave threat to the health and future of Thai youth. In light of this, it is imperative to enforce stringent control measures through clear laws and policies. We must unite in raising awareness and fostering a vape-free society to protect the well-being and future of Thai children and adolescents. 

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