The UAE is working on regulations to stop the illegal import of e-cigarettes, following which people who bring the product to the UAE or order them online will be held accountable, said a senior health official.

Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, said: "All the e-cigarettes currently available in the country have not been imported, since no import standards have been specified. So, they are smuggled," she told Khaleej Times.

Dr Al Maidoor said that a regulation was being worked upon for this but there was no time frame for its implementation.

"The GCC already has notifications that ban the import of e-cigarettes and the UAE is the only country that does not have any such rules," she said, adding that was the reason regulations were being worked upon.

She said: "What we are looking at doing is working with the customs authorities and finding a way to stop people from ordering online and bringing e-cigarettes with them into the country."

She also said that other tobacco products in the country were standardised as per the Emirates Standardisation and Metrology Association (ESMA) regulations but e-cigarettes were not as they their import into the country is not allowed. "No company in the UAE has a licence to import e-cigarettes and we do not have any plans to allow such. However, we cannot talk about the future," she said.

Dr Al Maidoor also said that it was a well-known fact that the world over, e-cigarettes were not any safer than regular tobacco, as is commonly assumed. "E-cigarettes do not help with quitting smoking as its promoters claim," she said, adding that in fact, it only leads to tobacco addiction in a different way.

Other Dubai-based doctors and health experts echoed the views of Dr Al Maidoor.

Doctors discourage use of e-cigarettes

Dr Maan Jamal, medical director and pulmonary, critical care, sleep medicine consultant at Emirates Hospital Jumeirah, told Khaleej Times: "The long term safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes are still unk-nown but I'm not someone who will discourage the use of e-cigarettes, as long as they will help people quit smoking."

Dr Jamal also emphasised the growing public health concern about e-cigarettes. "In addition to the unknown health effects, there are also findings suggesting that e-cigarettes serve as an introductory product for teens, leading them to the use of other tobacco products, including cigarettes."

He added: "Across all brands, there has been a significant increase in the use of e-cigarettes in the last few years. This could also mean that some non-smokers may have become curious about trying e-cigarettes, which might lead to an actual cigarette smoking habit. So, we need to further study the consequences of e-cigarettes."

Doctors also say that although e-cigarettes contain liquid ingredients or 95 per cent propylene glycol and glycerin, there is still some nicotine in them. The nicotine content is between 0.5-1.5mg, according to Dr Mrinal Ashok Raikar, specialist pulmonologist at Aster Clinic (AJMC), Bur Dubai.Dr Raikar said: "Chronic nicotine exposure may lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes and inhaled nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure.

"Regulating e-cigarettes is a positive step, keeping in mind the benefits of people who quit smoking. But e-cigarettes still contain fumes that may trigger coughing as well as nas-al and eye irritation to smokers and the people around them."

Generally, e-cigarettes are considered safer than regular cigarettes but there are there are more effective ways to quit smoking, Dr. Hassan Razein, specialist respiratory medicine at Zulekha Hospital in Dubai, underlined. Dr Razein noted that some of his patients have quit smoking and are now into e-cigarettes.

"I would highly recommend nicotine replacement gums or lozenges and therapy as a more effective and safer means for people who want to quit the smoking habit.

"Some e-cigarettes contain toba-cco and glycerin, which might be harmful when used for a long duration," Dr Razein said.

Health matters to ponder

Research so far suggests that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, when people who regularly smoke switch to them as a complete replacement. But e-cigarettes can still cause damage to health. But e-cigarettes can lead to nicotine addiction and increased risk for addiction to other drugs. E-cigarette use also exposes the lungs to a variety of chemicals, including those added to e-liquids, and other chemicals produced during the heating/vaporising process. Undoubtedly, more research is needed to determine if e-cigarettes may be as effective as smoking cessation aids.

Smokers differ on e-cigarette 'benefits' over regular smokes

"I started using them two years ago and I had really started enjoying it as a better alternative to smoking cigarettes. But after I came to the UAE last year, I have started smoking again," said M.N. who works in the public sector.

"I will be the first one to buy it when e-cigarettes hit the shelves," he said. Some smokers said they will definitely try out vapes (vapouriser or inhaling device) to see "what that does to our nicotine craving".

"I have not tried it yet though I have been smoking for the last 16 years. But I have read about people using electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid. I am not sure whether it will work on me," said H.A, an Arab national, who calls himself a chain smoker.

His friend, who gave his first name as Adnan, said he believes any kind of smoking is harmful. "There are debates about vapes and not many people think they are harmless. I don't think e-cigarettes will really help you quit smoking."

Instead, Adnan said teenage smoking will increase if e-cigarettes are available in the market. "I hope the authorities will regulate the availability of vapes, otherwise youngsters will easily pick up the habit."

(Compiled by Jasmine Al Kuttab)

What are e-cigarettes?

Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol, which typically contains nicotine (though not always), flavourings and other chemicals. In many e-cigarettes, puffing activates the battery-powered heating device, which vapourises the liquid in the cartridge or reservoir. The person then inhales the resulting aerosol or vapour (thus called vaping).

What is nicotine?

Nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline) and increases the levels of a chemical messenger, called dopamine, in the brain. The activity of dopamine in the brain's reward system motivates some people to use nicotine again and again, despite possible risks to their health and well-being.

(Sources: US Food and Drug Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse; US Department of Health and Human Services)

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