800 students, including primary school pupils, fined or prosecuted for vaping offences in 2022
A total of 800 students, from primary-school age to those enrolled in Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), were prosecuted or fined in 2022 for vaping offences even as concerns grow over the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes.
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said the Ministry of Education (MOE) had referred the students to them, adding that some were fined. Those caught purchasing, using or owning a vaporiser can be fined up to $2,000 per offence.
When contacted, MOE said the students were from primary schools to the autonomous universities, but declined to provide a breakdown.
Fewer than 50 students from schools and IHLs were referred to HSA for vaping offences before 2020, Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman had said in Parliament earlier this month (Oct 3, 2023).
He also said the Government and various health agencies were concerned about the vaping situation, not just among students but in the wider community.
A spokesman for HSA said they are working together with the Ministry of Health and Health Promotion Board (HPB) in using legislation, enforcement, public education and counselling to tackle the possession and use of vaporisers among students.
“Students caught using or possessing e-vaporisers will be required to attend cessation programmes arranged by HPB and schools.
“Recalcitrant offenders may also be referred by the schools to HSA for further action, such as composition fines or prosecution,” added the spokesman.
Although there has been a ban on e-cigarettes or vaporisers, since Feb 1, 2018, a total of 4,916 people were caught in 2022 for using and possessing vaporisers, up from 4,697 the previous year and 1,266 in 2020.
HSA said in September that 18 people were convicted between April and August 2023 for selling vaporisers and related components, with total fines levied against them amounting to $153,000.
Those caught importing, distributing or selling such products faces fines of up to $10,000, and a jail sentence of up to six months or both for the first offence.
A discipline master with an IHL, who declined to be named, said students caught for their first offence are usually given a warning. The school will also send a letter to their parents.
The students will also be made to pick up discarded vaporisers or cigarette butts on the school premises.
He said the school he works at had referred a student in 2021 to HSA after he was caught a second time. The student was fined $300.
“The number of students caught vaping each month has not improved. Now they hide the vaporisers in false ceilings or behind mirrors in the toilets close to the classrooms,” said the discipline master, who added that teachers now conduct random checks on students.
The spokesman for MOE said the ministry does not mandate the use of vaporiser detectors, adding that schools are left to decide how best to condcut checks for vaping offences.
Sellers have migrated online to market the device, targeting children and young adults with colourful and disposable vaporisers.
These devices contain various chemicals described as “e-juice”. When vaping, users inhale the atomised “e-juice”, which may contain nicotine.
Doctors have warned of the dangers of vaping, saying it could lead to respiratory problems similar to cigarette smoking.
In an earlier interview, Dr Aneez Ahmed said that vaping is especially harmful to adolescents whose respiratory systems are still developing.
The senior consultant lung surgeon at the International Centre for Thoracic Surgery in Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre also said that vaping can lead to nicotine dependence, which may predispose the user to cigarette smoking later.
Psychotherapist Andrew Da Roza, who specialises in addictions at Promises Healthcare, said the younger a person starts using nicotine regularly, the greater their risk of dependence.
“Nicotine has a number of psychoactive effects and some of these are experienced as positive - such as improved attention, focus, short term memory, coordination, and relief from anxiety and low mood.
“However, in periods when nicotine is not used, the psychoactive effects of withdraw include all the exact opposite of the positive effects, namely, lack of focus, low mood and anxiety,” he added.