AMMAN - Vaping devices are becoming popular in Jordan especially among young people, who have created a strong demand for trendy e-cigarettes.
Young female and male vapers seem infatuated by the shift to devices that use liquids containing a mix of nicotine and flavoured ingredients for practicality and the misconception that it is less harmful and helps quit regular smoking.
“Carrying a pack of cigarettes became something of the past. Today, we have this small thing that is easy to carry, comfortable and there are lots of options regarding the design and flavours,” said Ghada, who mentioned she replaced smoking with vaping when she was 16.
“The smell of tobacco usually sticks to your hair and clothes but with vaping you would smell like coconut or chocolate,” added the 19-year-old university student, who asked to be identified only by her first name.
A 2016 report by the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that 32.2% of students aged 13-15 use tobacco globally.
Vaping is also attracting older, long-time smokers.
“When I discovered vaping, I had doubts. I used to smoke one packet a day and I was enjoying it despite health warnings. Now I shifted to vaping and find it very comfortable and practical and there are many flavours to choose from,” said George Sofia, 44, a bank employee.
“We all know that, at the end, it is all bad for your health but quitting is really not easy.”
A report by Tobacco Atlas, an online resource that maps the nature and magnitude of tobacco use, placed Jordan eighth, immediately ahead of Russia and Syria, in percentage of residents who use tobacco. Jordan, Syria and China (14th place) were listed as the most tobacco-dependent non-European countries.
The report said 942 million men and 175 million women aged 15 and older smoke across the world. More than 6 million people die each year from tobacco use, Tobacco Atlas said, adding that second-hand smoke caused 884,000 deaths in 2016.
Dr Jeries Emseeh said there are uncertainties considering vaping compared to regular smoking.
“Some say it is even worse than smoking regular cigarettes; others say it is safer so no one knows,” Emseeh said. “Long-term effects of e-cigarette usage are unknown but researchers say that vaping may modify the DNA in the oral cells of users, which could increase their cancer risk but still we need to wait and see,”
“I believe that vaping is the first step towards smoking at a later stage. The mere fact of holding something in your mouth and vaping may develop to regular smoking and, as doctors, we recommend not to use vaping at all,” Emseeh added.
E-cigarettes were introduced in 2004 and have since become smaller, easy to charge and taste better than tobacco, users said.
“The different flavours appeal to young people who do not like the smell of tobacco, so they turn to vaping like those who smoke the hookah. Moreover, it is less costly. The cost for an average user is around $45 per month compared to $75 per month for a consumer of one pack of cigarettes a day,” said Marwan Abbasi, owner of a tobacco shop in Amman.
The Jordanian Ministry of Health banned the importation of all vaping devices in 2017 as a follow-up to the 2009 ban on e-cigarettes. However, they are available on the black market and many people buy them abroad.
Jordan became a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in February 2005, which led to smoke-free places, a ban on tobacco advertising and health warnings being placed on tobacco products.
While there are no official statistics about smoking-related deaths, WHO said that approximately 12% of total deaths of those who are 30 and older in Jordan are linked to smoking.
Tobacco Atlas said more than 3,100 Jordanians die from tobacco-related disease every year while more than 9,000 children 10-14 years old use tobacco. Tobacco kills 46 men and 15 women every week, the group said.
A 2018 report by RAND Health, an independent health policy research programme, said adolescents who use vaping products were not only more likely to smoke cigarettes but were also likely to increase consumption of both products over time.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.