With the recent death of 10 people worldwide, supposedly suffering from vaping related illnesses, and hundreds of hospitalisation cases reported, policymakers of different countries are mulling a ban on e-cigarettes.
The United States, India, South Korea and Australia all have imposed heavy restrictions on vaping products, but Bangladesh seems to be unaffected. The trend of vaping is steadily growing here.
Sales manager of the Vapor Source, a shop at Sobhanbag in Dhaka that exclusively sales vaping related items, informed The Business Standard that vaping shops in the country have grown from only two in 2012 to more than three hundred at present. The Vapor Source had to move to a bigger space to deal with a larger bulk of customers.
The Vapor Cloud – another shop – has a somewhat similar story. They had to open new branches in Banani and Gulshan to manage the growing customers. Their products come with a price ranging from Tk4,500 to Tk1 lakh or even more.
The sales manager said the items get sold within a very short time.
Commenting on the rising number of customers, Ahmed Mahir, manager of the Vapor Cloud, said, "You can easily sense the hype of a product when you see hawkers selling those in pavements, which is the case with vapes."
But he warned about the street products which he dubbed as cheap Chinese substances.
When e-cigarettes entered the Bangladesh market a decade ago, it was initially taken as a means to quit smoking or downsize the intake of nicotine. However, a report by the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2017 carried out by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, showed the number of e-cigarette consumers is 0.2 percent of the total tobacco consumers. Though the number is small, the trend is growing, experts claim.
A vaping shop sales manager, seeking anonymity, said, "Vapes has become a new and growing trend among college and university students. There are vapours who earlier did not have a habit of smoking."
When The Business Standard team visited a number of shops, they found college-going students having chitchats in those shops puffing e-cigarettes.
Bilash, a private university student who has been vaping for several years, said he opted for vaping as he was trying to quit smoking.
"Vaping is more convenient for me than patch or chewing gums as my nerves look for nicotine," Bilash said.
Mashkur Hussain, a sophomore vapour, got into the habit out of curiosity.
The appeal of the vaping device and a misconception of its having low nicotine may have triggered its popularity among young people.
Sarker Shams, media officer for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), said everyone was taking vaping to be "less harmful" than smoking cigarettes, but now we see this is not so.
None of the vapours interviewed had heard about the recent incidents of vaping-related deaths and the worldwide concerns about its health hazards.
Sarker Shams suggested banning vapes and other forms of e-cigarettes entirely before it becomes widespread. "Many countries are struggling to contain the vaping epidemic. In Bangladesh, it is time to act now," he said.
Mehedi Hasan, programme director of the Progga – an organisation fighting tobacco for a long time – said the Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers' Association is trying to portray e-cigarettes as an alternative to traditional cigarettes as they are planning to bring out their own brand of e-cigarettes in the market.
Rajib Saha, a respiratory diseases specialist at the Salimullah Medial College, mentioned that identifying the health hazards of a product requires years of data.
"One thing I should say is that you are never safe consuming nicotine. And the health hazards of nicotine start simply from regular breathing problem and coughs," said Rajib.
However, a group of scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia revealed that e-cigarettes have the capability to destroy the cells that protect lungs.