Kids drawn to vaping despite proven health risks
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Kids drawn to vaping despite proven health risks

Targeted advertising to blame for the increasing number of young e-cigarette users

Toy pods are designed to mimic cute figurine and are almost unrecognisable as e-cigarettes.
Toy pods are designed to mimic cute figurine and are almost unrecognisable as e-cigarettes.

They can look harmlessly cute, coming in bright cartoon-like colours and with various tempting flavours.

Despite increasing the risk of lung disease and being illegal under Thai law, e-cigarettes have become common in Thailand.

The nicotine vaping devices come in playful designs, dubbed "toy pods", seemingly to communicate to vulnerable targets, especially adolescents, that they are harmless due to the devices being smoke-free, cool and socially acceptable.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed the chemicals in e-cigarettes, particularly the additives and nicotine, are toxic and harmful.

Nicotine, which is the primary agent in both tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes, is highly addictive.

The consumption of nicotine in children and adolescents has important impacts on brain development and can potentially lead to learning and anxiety disorders.

Yet, it is youngsters who are specifically targeted by the e-cigarette industry.


Patcharapan Prajuablap, secretary-general of the Thailand Youth Institute, said a recent operation to raid e-cigarette shops in the Ratchadaphisek area in Din Daeng district provided solid evidence that the e-cigarette business generates a great deal of income.

Based on the institute's investigation, a small 20 sq m shop could make up to one million baht per month, and 70% of the sales were to minors.

The study also showed that the prime time for the sales is between 2-6pm, when school finishes, and toy pods are the number one best seller for their appealing, colourful design. One toy pod provides 5,000 puffs.

According to Mr Patcharapan, there are more than 1,000 e-cigarette shops in Bangkok and most are located close to education outlets; the nearest is just 130 metres away from a local school.

The study also found that Bangkok has the highest rate of adolescent e-cigarette use at 32.3%.

These youngsters were reported to have bought the toy pods at the shops rather than placing orders online.

"We have found that e-cigarette vendors have been trying to target young customers by offering options of flavours they like, such as Nong Pho [a Thai milk brand], Milo and Ovaltine," he said.

"Worse, the manufacturers and sellers even use toy marketing in advertising the e-device to create the image that the product is not dangerous to children."

Mr Patcharapan said all e-cigarette products in Thailand are manufactured in neighbouring countries.

Hence, the best way to prevent the problem is to enhance the effectiveness of customs inspections of overseas shipments.

Prime Minister and Finance Minister Srettha Thavisin said recently the import of e-cigarettes into Thailand has been banned since 2014.

"The PM should order the Department of Customs to take action to stop e-cigarettes being smuggled in. The current game of cat-and-mouse is unlikely to end the problem," he added.


The institute partnered with the Department of Health Service Support under the Ministry of Public Health last year to survey e-cigarette use among Thai youths.

Of 61,688 participants with an average age of 15 years old, 25% said they vaped.

It also found that youngsters living with e-cigarette vapers were 1.3 times more likely to take up the habit compared with the group who didn't live in a smoking environment.

Children who didn't know about the dangers of e-cigarettes were 1.14 times more likely to take up smoking.

Dr Roengrudi Pathavanich, a lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine, Ramathibodi Hospital, said that early this year, her team conducted a study at two primary schools in Lop Buri and Tak and were shocked by what they found.

She said that 43% of the students aged 10 years up (grades 4 to 6) in Lop Buri had tried e-cigarettes, and more than half of those were girls.

While in Tak, 22% of the students in the same age group have used e-cigarettes.

The students were reported to have said it made them feel cool, and they also believed that smoking e-cigarettes was not dangerous.

Of these students, 23% said they obtained their e-cigarette from a family member, while 20% reported to have been inspired by social media.

Dr Roengrudi also said that her previous study found that children started to smoke cigarettes at the age of 18 years on average, and less than five per cent started during primary school.

The study also found that e-cigarette is a gateway to tobacco cigarettes, as children who use e-cigarettes are five times more likely to then change to normal cigarettes.

"The number is so scary and child protection is urgently needed. The government should strictly enforce the ban on e-cigarette sales in the country," she said. "Otherwise, it will send the wrong message to children that the product is safe and good for use."

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