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E-cigarettes still distributed in the Kingdom despite ban

Marie Lamy & Va Sonyka / Khmer Times Share:
A range of E-cigarettes are sold in the capital’s flea markets. KT/Marie Lamy

In a murky alleyway near a well-known flea market in Phnom Penh, hidden between the various commodities, e-cigarettes or vapes are not only available but continue to turn a profit.

A seller claims the product is imported from China and of “good quality”. He also has a range of accessories to accompany the device, including oils and various styles of containers. The prices start at $30 and someone could spend a small fortune acquiring the extensive selection of devices, holders and paraphernalia on offer.

As the ‘World No Tobacco Day’ on the 31st of May approaches, vaping continues to offer a seemingly positive alternative to traditional forms of smoking. However, the devices have been banned in the Kingdom since 2014. With this, the Khmer Times investigates why and how the banned smoking devices continue to be bought and sold in the Kingdom and how the phenomenon has begun to grip the younger generation.

Tobacco still remains as one of the most severe public health threats the world continues to face.

According to the World Health Organisation, around eight million people die globally every year because of smoking; 15,000 of whom are Cambodian.

A joint statement by WHO, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance and Cambodia Movement for Health reports that over two million Cambodians currently consume tobacco products in various forms.

To curb tobacco use and urge people to refrain from smoking, the upcoming “No Tobacco Day” aims to remind people of the benefits of life without tobacco. In line with the event, (WHO) is also set to launch their campaign which aims to reach out to young people and promote tobacco-free lives.

As people’s awareness has grown surrounding the dangers of using tobacco, there has been a growing market in alternative or supposedly safer ways of consuming the addictive chemicals contained within it. This demand, alongside new technology has led to the rise of e-cigarettes.

Originally designed as a way to quit smoking, vapes have become popular in their own right, especially with the younger generation.

One of the key ways by which the tobacco industry giants target young audiences is through an extensive variation of flavours in cigarettes. The emergence of mint and fruit flavoured cigarettes has proved especially popular as the younger generation explores different flavours which take the edge off smoke inhalation.

Vaping has also capitalised on this market, with an almost limitless range of flavours to accompany the smoother inhale of vapour. Couple this with a variety of device designs, styles and accessories, they are fast becoming the symbol of ‘cool’ among youths.

Chea Linda, a 20-year-old former casino employee from Phnom Penh, said she used to be a tobacco smoker but has now switched to vaping, saying “most of my friends started vaping so I feel excluded if I don’t do it.”

According to WHO, e-cigarettes have not been in the market long enough to properly assess the potential health implications from long-term use. However, studies into similar types of devices, such as aerosols, have been proven to lead to cardiovascular diseases and lung disorders.

Last week, the Cambodia Movement for Health (CMH) called on the government to take action to cease e-cigarette advertisement and distribution on social platforms such as Facebook and YouTube. Raising concerns over the health risks of using e-cigarettes, which claim to help smokers quit traditional smoking methods, despite having no clear evidence confirming they are better or worse than the latter.

CMH executive director Mom Kong told Khmer Times, “In 2014, the government prohibited the sale and import of e-cigarettes. However, sellers are still finding ways to distribute their goods despite the ban online and through flea markets.”

The availability of vapes in Cambodia evidences their popularity and as a relatively new technology, the devices have become an attractive way of smoking in their own right.

Coupled with the range of styles, flavours and holders, vapes are verging on a fashion statement. Targeted social media marketing and peer influence are ensuring that vapes continue to gain traction. However, as yet the health risks associated with E-cigarettes are still unknown.

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