Teen Vaping – An Upcoming Social & Health Issue

“A staggering 36.9% of students start on the e-cigarettes between the ages of 14 and 15”

In vaping, a battery powered device called an e-cigarette (ECV) heats a liquid into vapour that can be inhaled. The vapour may contain addictive substance such as nicotine, flavourings, plus other chemicals. What originated as a smoking cessation aid has quickly became a popular and addictive product in its own right.


According to the Tobacco and E-cigarette Survey among Malaysian Adolescents 2016 (Tecma), a staggering 36.9% (compared to 3% 4 years ago) of students start on the e-cigarettes between the ages of 14 and 15, and now, we’re seeing a spike in teenage use.

Easily passed-off as a thumb drive or pen, the eye-catching devices look like the latest fashion accessories. Although vaping companies emphatically deny that they are marketing to young people, critics note such features in their advertising as youthful images and colours, animation, social media influencers, and suggestions that vaping improves your social status.


On January 2018, the United State National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a consensus study report that reviewed over 800 different studies. The report has made it clear that the inhalation of harmful chemicals can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease based on the following findings: –

  • A study from the University of North Carolina found that the two primary ingredients found in e-cigarettes—propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin—are toxic to cells and that the more ingredients in an e-liquid, the greater the toxicity.
  • E-cigarettes produce a number of dangerous chemicals including acetaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde. These aldehydes can cause lung disease, as well as cardiovascular (heart) disease.
  • E-cigarettes also contain acrolein, a herbicide primarily used to kill weeds. It can cause acute lung injury and COPD and may cause asthma and lung cancer.
  • Both the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine have warned about the risks of inhaling second-hand e-cigarette emissions, which are created when an e-cigarette user exhales the chemical cocktail created by e-cigarettes.
  • In 2016, the Surgeon General concluded that second-hand emissions contain, “nicotine; ultrafine particles; flavourings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease; volatile organic compounds such as benzene, which is found in car exhaust; and heavy metals, such as nickel, tin, and lead.”
  • The Food and Drug Administration has not found any e-cigarette to be safe and effective in helping smokers quit.

“The inhalation of harmful chemicals can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease”


Researches have revealed that teenagers are much more susceptible to addiction compared to adults. Some even start to have nicotine cravings after just one try. Teenagers have a higher degree of “synaptic plasticity” compared to adults. This means they are building bigger and faster connections in their brain. They can imprint on good things and bad things. For example, addiction, which is a form of learning, is faster, is stronger and longer in young people. Researchers suggest that vaping is leading youth into nicotine use and nicotine addiction, not away from it. Nicotine high lasts for less than two hours before the craving starts. So, getting youngsters hooked on ECV is also a business tactic.

The NARCC smoking prevention programme in schools mentioned that when the use of ECV is related to crimes like theft, violence, fighting, bullying, and running away from home, more effort is needed to curb the habit. Therefore, more needs to be done to prevent a new generation of nicotine addicts from emerging. In the wrong hands, E-cigarettes can also be used in marijuana and meth warns Universiti Malaya Centre of Addiction Sciences (UMCAS).


The Education Ministry recently announced that it would intensify awareness campaigns after claims of ECV being freely distributed among students, and photos of youths vaping, went viral. More awareness campaigns need to be conducted by health scientists, educationists, politicians and non-governmental organisations, to show that ECV use is not “normal behaviour”. Campaigns can be effective they also target parents and teachers.The more you say no to children and adolescents, the more they rebel and the more they want to try it. Make them realise that sellers only want to make money by getting youths hooked on an addictive habit whether it’s nicotine or drugs. It is important that parents shouldn’t over-react if they find their child smoking or on drugs. Group activities, instead of talks, work better to impart knowledge. Plus, it’s more sustainable and continuous.


On the national political level, new Bill should be proposed to control the use of e-cigarettes, vape and shisha, says social activist Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye. Lee, who is also senior vice-chairman of the Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation, said the Bill should also take into account similar products that could influence children. About 90% of vape fluids contained nicotine which could lead to addiction. Therefore, a special prohibition under the law is needed to make it easier to curb the purchase and use of such products. He added that the National Cancer Society of Malaysia has also called for a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to youths after reports that vape liquids are often laced with drugs.


Proactive action to address the issue must be taken immediately by all parties, and especially parents. It is crucial that teens understand the possible effects of vaping on overall health, the development of the teen brain, and the potential of addiction. Based on the feedback from the Head of Discipline of a secondary school in Kota Kinabalu who prefers to remain autonomous, the issue of vaping is definitely happening and the school is constantly faced with an average of 1 vaping case per day. The current measures that the school is able to do is to raise awareness of vaping to students through talks during assembly and enforcement through penalty in accordance with the Ministry of Educations circular on ECV. The enforcement will eventually be expelled students if caught more than 3 times. What the school hopes is more serious measures on enforcement by the government as students can easily have access to ECV and  the prevention and regulation of sales of EVCs.

To find out what’s happening in Kota Kinabalu, our magazine seeks some public opinions on this growing social trend.

John Kong – Concerned Parent

Mr. John Kong

The issue of vaping among teenagers has affected many including my children, his friends, cousins whether boy or girl. Once they are hooked, he or she will go all out to conceal their ECV devices. They will also be always hiding away in their room, coughing and will drop in their school work performance. Despite multiple attempts to educate them, they don’t listen to advise and eventually be caught in school using the device and eventually be expelled.

From a parent’s perspective, I feel that more programs should be done to address this very serious social issue.  The programs can focus on 2 major areas. The first is pre-addiction prevention awareness programs on health risks and dangers. The second is post-addiction rehabilitation programs that can help the child to stop their addiction through a systematic process rather than just isolating and punishing them. These affected teenagers need our help.

Associate Professor Dr. Peter Voo, Faculty of Psychology and Education – Universiti Malaysia Sabah

Dr. Peter Voo

Personally, I think to stop getting involved in this vaping issue we should seek professional help. The process of quitting vaping can be difficult if you are not sure where to start so I think the first step is to get help from professionals, the percentage to recover from these symptoms will be high if you get professional services especially in the medical profession. You can get advice and support services, there are groups that offer support in the form of counselling and motivate you to discard that habit and suggest some strategies to stop vaping. Another way is to follow a therapeutic process that can control vape intake by using a control strategy with a medical observer.

In addition, friends and family support is very important, the affected children do not need to be embarrassed or worried that your family knows you have done something wrong or that you feel embarrassed if their friend knows they want to quit and stop using vape. It is important for their friends and family to support and help them along the way. Friends and family members can offer words of encouragement and even help them avoid stressful situations to quit. Their friends and family are part of the reason why they need to stop being tempted to take the vape again.


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