“Tim” (not his real name) picked up his first vape when he was 14 years old. He was hooked on cigarettes. So hooked, that in an attempt to make him quit, his dad gave him a vape.
But it led to another addiction. Tim couldn’t get enough of vaping. He was puffing at home, in school, and even in class during lesson time.
“Sometimes I would feel like I need to take a smoke break, but I can’t leave the classroom, so I will just take a puff and then blow it into my bag, or like blow it into my shirt, because the smoke kind of like dissipates. It doesn’t smell,” he admits to Mediacorp current affairs show Talking Point.
Tim is not the only teen hooked on vaping.
In 2021, more than 4,600 people in Singapore were caught for buying, using and or possession of vapes. That’s more than triple the number, from the year before. A third of these vapers caught were under the age of 18.
What exactly is a vape? Essentially, it’s an e-cigarette, filled with liquid that comes in a cocktail of flavours so enticing with names like Pumpkin Spice and Bandung – it’s little wonder kids are lured.
In Singapore, vapes are banned. You can’t buy, own, or smoke a vape. But yet teens are getting their hands on it.
In a two-part Talking Point Special, host Munah Bagharib delves deep into the world of vaping. She investigates how our youths are getting access to something so contraband and what happens if one starts vaping at such a young age.
She meets Tim and other teens who vape and finds out just how accessible the contraband devices are.
“Kelly”, who started vaping at 16 years of age told her: “It’s easier to get a vape than for me to go out and buy cigarettes because I’m still underage.
“Like (at) 7-11, you have CCTV and stuff. So much easier to get like a vape.”
Karen Lim, a student health advisor at the Health Promotion Board whose work involves helping kids to quit smoking, says about half her caseload now involves students who vape.
Despite authorities weeding out and shutting down social media listings which sell vapes in Singapore, Talking Point managed to find many others, including thriving Telegram chatrooms, which are even hawking vapes containing juice laced with THC.
THC is the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana. So what exactly are our kids inhaling? Talking Point worked with Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority to get some confiscated vapes sent to a lab for testing and the results are shocking.
Among the chemicals found was formaldehyde, a cancer-causing agent used in the process of embalming. They also discovered nicotine levels surpassing a stick of cigarette.
Dr Aneez DB Ahmed, senior consultant surgeon for thoracic surgery at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital says he is starting to see cases of teen vapers with inflamed lungs.
“The earlier you start, definitely the higher the risk of you getting cancer and lung injury,” he adds.
“If you turn yourself into a closet vaper, you will probably be taking more nicotine. It definitely affects the younger people. It affects the development of the brain in a younger age group.”
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