Time for a rational debate on vaping

Dr Tan Kok Kuan (Time to change tack in fight against smoking; Feb 8) raised many pertinent points with regard to the latest measures enforced by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to further reduce smoking rates in Singapore.

In essence, he highlighted that an "abstinence-only message", as propagated by the MOH has probably reached saturation point.

Singapore has done very well in its battle against smoking. But since 2013, our smoking rate has plateaued at around 13 per cent.

While keeping some of the tough measures, we need to think out of the cigarette pack in coming up with more creative solutions.

Take the debate on vaping, which has polarised the community.

On one side is the view that e-cigarettes are not the manna from heaven that some are calling them. On the other side, scientific evidence is emerging that e-cigarettes are less harmful than normal cigarettes.

In an editorial published in The Lancet, experts from Public Health England said: "Although not without risk, the overall risk of harm (from vaping) is estimated at less than 5 per cent of that from smoking tobacco; the risk of cancer has been calculated to be less than 1 per cent."

The evidence is not conclusive. But that does not mean Singapore must continue to take an extremely conservative view on smoking.

The MOH could, for a start, consider e-cigarettes on a "prescription-only" basis to smokers who register themselves to quit the habit.

Rather than being used as a product for pleasure, it could be effectively utilised as a quitting aid and dispensed in a controlled environment by general practitioners.

In October last year, the annual Stoptober campaign in Britain also adopted the use of e-cigarettes - a sign that vaping is being seen as an essential tool to help smokers quit.

It is time to blow away the smoke created by both sides and start an evidence-based and rational debate on how we can bring our smoking rate further down.

Mohammed Saleem Mohammed Ibrahim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2018, with the headline 'Time for a rational debate on vaping'. Print Edition | Subscribe