Dubai: Despite the UAE-wide e-cigarette ban in the UAE, there is evidence of growing use of the electronic alternative to tobacco, Gulf News has learnt. Health experts urged civic authorities to take swift action to stop the illegal trade.

Investigation revealed that unlicensed traders sell e-cigarettes for Dh50 a piece, and claim they can arrange for small quantities at a time. The illegal import is being done through word of mouth and, according to Gulf News sources, even through licensed traders of Chinese products in free zone areas, albeit in small quantities.

Public health experts have said that e-cigarettes — a battery-operated device that delivers nicotine without tobacco and emulates smoking — undermines the country’s anti-smoking efforts. Furthermore, they are concerned that e-cigarettes could increase nicotine addiction and encourage tobacco use in the younger population.

The smokeless ‘cigarette’ that delivers doses of nicotine and/or tobacco extracts with or without flavouring, is erroneously seen as a healthy alternative to tobacco smoking.

A senior official from the UAE Ministry of Health has said the illegal availability of e-cigarettes thwarts the country’s anti-tobacco efforts. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has urged countries to ban electronic cigarettes. The body states that it does not consider e-cigarettes to be a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit.

It also states that e-cigarettes pose significant public health issues and raise questions about tobacco control policy and regulation.

The ministry considers the e-cigarette a tobacco product or a way of promoting smoking but not a solution to control smoking.

“Despite the GCC-wide ban, we hear reports of some people who have imported it illegally, using it in the UAE,” said Dr Wedad Al Maidour, head of the National Tobacco Control Programme and director of Primary Healthcare Centres at the ministry, speaking to Gulf News.

She said e-cigarettes pose a health hazard. Referring to various studies, notably that of the 2009 US Food and Drug Administration, she said e-cigarettes have carcinogens (cancer-causing substances) and toxic chemicals such as components of antifreeze and brake fluids.

Expounding on the appeal of e-cigarettes, she said that smokers, especially teenagers, may wrongly think that it is a safer and undetectable alternative. “Due to it being odourless, teens may smoke in their homes or at school without anyone finding out,” said Dr Wedad.

She also said e-cigarettes challenge the country’s anti-tobacco laws, and that the dangers of e-cigarettes should be reiterated and implementation of the ban should be stricter.

“We need a cabinet-level ban on these devices across the GCC,” she said.

Gulf News spoke to Dr Hanan Obaid, Tobacco-Free Dubai Project Leader and Acting Director of the Health Affairs Department, Primary Healthcare Services Sector, Dubai Health Authority (DHA), on e-cigarettes being perceived as a kind of smoking cessation therapy.

“These devices do not have health warnings unlike other nicotine replacement products. In fact, electronic cigarettes could increase nicotine addiction and encourage tobacco use as these simulate the act of smoking,” she said.

Dr Salwa Zaky Hanna, Senior Health Education Officer and Psychological Counsellor who overlooks the Smoking Cessation programme at the Abu Dhabi-based American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology, warned about the harmful effects of nicotine in e-cigarettes.

She said: “Long-term smoking affects health adversely, and it is known to kill half of its users. Stroke, cataract and cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus and lungs are linked to nicotine.”