By Chimwemwe Ngoma and Martha MWase
Over the past three months, the international media has been awash with stories on respiratory disease outbreak which has mainly wracked the United States of America (USA). In its first official statement, the USA Centre for Disease Control (CDC) hastily linked the illness to e-cigarettes without properly stating the real cause. This is probably one of the reasons that led the media and other keen followers of the story interpret the outbreak to be a result of using Nicotine vapes.
Even after the CDC later on stated that the likely cause of the lung illness is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) vape cartridges sourced from the black market which contains cannabis derivatives, there still has been an unnecessary moral panic in the USA and some parts of the world with some extreme cases where there have calls to refrain and ban all e-cigarettes.
Stakeholders in Malawi, Africa and the rest of the world should probably take time to study the issues around the respiratory disease outbreak, vaping and tobacco harm reduction with a sober and objective mind. We might be pushing away a lifesaving technology that is likely to save the over one million daily adult smokers in Malawi and the over 77 million daily adult smokers in Africa.
It is also interesting to mug up that, whilst other countries are pushing for a ban on all electronic cigarettes, other countries like the United Kingdom have embraced vaping as a safer alternative to smoking such that their hospitals accommodate vape shops in order to help smoker quit smoking and switch to this safer alternative.
In a worst case scenario where authorities are misled with the misinformation on e-cigarettes and implement the vape ban, ex-smokers who switched from smoking to vaping are likely to be denied the opportunity to utilize this life-saving harm reduction technology and go back to the deadliest means of Nicotine consumption which is smoking. According to public Health England, vaping is said to be at least 95% safer as compared to smoking. Hark back to the concept of harm reduction, it has always sat at the intersection between public health and human rights.
It is vital for the media and tobacco harm reduction advocates to ensure that in all reporting and information sharing of stories around the respiratory disease outbreak to continuously distinguish the illicit and unregulated cannabis derivatives gadgets (which are stated by the CDC to be the likely cause of the outbreak) from the accepted Nicotine vaping products which offer smokers an opportunity to consume Nicotine in a significantly less harmful way as compared to smoking.