|Experts discuss on the necessity of establishing a legal framework to control new-generation tobacco products at a seminar held by VietnamPlus newspaper on Monday in Hà Nội. — VNA/VNS Photo|
Speaking at a seminar on building legal barriers to new tobacco products organised by VietnamPlus newspaper on Monday in Hà Nội, they argued that without proper regulation, new tobacco products could become a shortcut, making it easier for young people to access and consume tobacco.
Dr Nguyễn Huy Nga, Director of the Center for Health Environment Research and Development (CHERAD) and former director of the Ministry of Health’s Preventive Medicine Department, presented the results of an independent survey on the prevalence of new tobacco products among young people.
The survey, conducted on 1,000 students aged 12 to 17 in Hà Nội, showed that 18.4 per cent had tried e-cigarettes, with 13.8 per cent currently using them. Meanwhile, 4.5 per cent of students had tried heated tobacco products, and 3.2 per cent were still using them, primarily among high school students.
Specifically, 12-year-old students did not use heated tobacco products, but 5.5 per cent of 17-year-olds were using them. 12-year-old students preferred e-cigarettes, with 9.7 per cent using them. This percentage among 17-year-old students was 17.6 per cent.
Notably, the survey showed that most students were aware of the harmful effects of tobacco, yet the proportion of those who had smoked cigarettes or used new tobacco products accounted for 21.3 per cent. The majority of students tended to believe that e-cigarettes and heated tobacco were less harmful than traditional cigarettes.
In response to these findings, Nguyễn Nho Huy, Deputy Head of the Ministry of Education and Training’s Physical Education Department, emphasised the need to enhance awareness about the dangers of new tobacco products.
Huy said the Ministry of Health should conduct comprehensive research covering economic, social, national security, environmental, and health aspects, as well as ethical education for young people.
“This groundwork will serve as the basis for presenting solutions and legal documents to the Government and parliament in order to amend the Tobacco Harm Prevention Law for new tobacco products, establishing a legal framework to prevent and minimise the access of young people to these products,” he said.
Dr Hiroya Kumamaru, Deputy Director of AOI General Hospital in Japan, presented the results of a 2021 survey sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare and conducted by a group of healthcare experts.
According to this survey, the use of traditional cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and even e-cigarettes among junior high school students was very low, almost reaching a rate of 0 per cent. Specifically, the usage rate of heated tobacco products among high school students was only 0.1 per cent.
The expert said the Ministry of Health was not concerned about the risk of new-generation tobacco products among young people due to strict regulations.
Ban on new tobacco products
Lê Đại Hải, Deputy Head of the Ministry of Justice’s Civil and Economic Law Department, stated that traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or heated tobacco products all fell under the category of conditionally regulated business items according to the Investment Law, rather than prohibited items.
However, there was currently a specific legal gap in the management of these products, making it easier for users to access illegally imported new tobacco products, he added.
Hải also noted that the rate of young people experimenting with new tobacco products was on the rise. Therefore, there must be a legal framework to manage these products.
Lê Đình Phương, Head of the General Internal Medicine and Family Medicine Department at FV Hospital, said that a complete ban on new tobacco products was not feasible because, by the time such a ban was imposed, these products might have already proliferated in the black market.
According to Phương, the law was currently lagging significantly behind practical realities. A clear understanding of the benefits and harms of new tobacco products was essential when crafting legislation.
As an educational expert, Nguyễn Nho Huy strongly advocated for an absolute ban on young people using these products.
Sharing the same viewpoint, Nguyễn Huy Nga said that it was essential to prohibit students from smoking at schools to have strict penalties for violators.
Dr Kumamaru also shared Japan's experience, in which students under 18 were not allowed to smoke anything, whether it was traditional cigarettes, heated tobacco products, or e-cigarettes. Those who were found to violate the law would face heavy sanctions, even expulsion.
Hải emphasised the need for stringent management of all tobacco products to prevent their presence in schools. He underscored that preventing students from accessing tobacco was clearly defined in the Tobacco Harm Prevention Law.
However, enforcement remained weak due to a lack of specialised enforcement agencies.
From a legal perspective, Hải said that creating a legal framework for new tobacco products would better control the quality of products. He also affirmed that all tobacco products were harmful, but consumers of legal smoking age could have less harmful choices.
"It's time for relevant authorities to urgently revise and supplement legal documents to tightly manage these products," he recommended.
Mental disorders due to e-cigarettes
The Mental Health Institute has warned about the increasing number of young patients suffering mental disorders due to excessive use of e-cigarettes.
The hospital has received a 27-year-old female patient in Hà Nội displaying abnormal behaviour.
The patient had no history of head trauma, brain inflammation, or any chronic internal or neurological conditions. Her mental development was normal.
According to her family members, the patient began using tobacco products approximately eight years ago. Initially, out of curiosity, she used traditional cigarettes but later switched to e-cigarettes. Initially, she consumed one pod, a type of e-liquid used in e-cigarettes, every 3-4 days, but later escalated to daily use, consuming about one pod per day.
In recent months, the patient began consuming 2-3 pods daily. She was in a constant state of confusion, lethargy, and fatigue, skipped meals, exhibited inappropriate behaviours, secluded herself in her room, and had slow responses.
After receiving treatment, the patient's health stabilised.
In another case, a patient mixed cannabis oil with e-cigarettes. According to the patient, he used the oil to enhance creativity and improve his work performance. However, over time, he developed an addiction to cannabis.
After prolonged use, the patient exhibited symptoms of restlessness, agitation, reduced interaction with others, and decreased work performance. He was hospitalised for treatment.
Dr Vũ Văn Hoài, a physician at the Mental Health Institute’s Substance Abuse Treatment Department, said apart from increasing the risk of addiction, the use of electronic cigarettes can lead to various mental disorders. Individuals addicted to e-cigarettes may experience reduced concentration, disrupted sleep patterns, mood swings, irritability, and decreased work efficiency.
For those who used additives with e-cigarettes, symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia may occur, as they become suspicious of those around them. Individuals who use cannabis oil in e-cigarettes may even exhibit signs of the onset of schizophrenia, which is extremely dangerous.
Hoài noted that many patients turned to e-cigarettes as a means to quit traditional smoking. Still, those who sought to quit smoking should consult experts and reputable centres for help.
Dr Lê Thị Thu Hà, Head of the institute's Substance Use and Behavioural Medicine Department, said e-cigarettes were becoming increasingly prevalent, and users were starting at a younger age. Most of the patients were hospitalised when their families noticed that their children had begun to develop an addiction to e-cigarettes.
Hà said that when young people started using e-cigarettes at the ages of 10-15, their brains were not yet fully developed and emotional control was challenging. The damaged areas of the brain made it difficult for users to resist other addictive substances. An addiction to e-cigarettes could serve as a gateway to other addictive substances. — VNS