Vaping in Malaysia: Between Scientific Evidence and Religious Decree

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Rosli bin Inchep started smoking since the age of 12. For the past 30 years, he can go up to 2 packets a day to satisfy his tobacco fix. But ever since he switched to electronic cigarette, his cravings has reduced tremendously. His first two weeks vaping saw him not going to the nearest store for a packet of cigarettes, an achievement that he could not have imagined. Since then, his breath and body odor is no longer stinks, his appetite improved and insomnia has ceased.

Rosli’s story is just one of many smokers who have resorted to vaping to kick the habit in order to ensure their health and the size of their wallets. Since the product was first introduced in Malaysia back in 2009, e-cigarettes has become the new trend among smokers after flavored roll up tobacco. What was once a privileged item among the rich can now be found among common folks at mamak (street food) stalls.

These past few years saw rise a boon in e-cigarette sales with local, young entrepreneurs making a business in selling e-cigarette and flavoured liquids exported from countries such as Japan and Taiwan. The recent report by Public Health England which stated that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than tobacco cigarettes also contributed to the growth of the local vaping industry which is now the second largest in the world after the United States with a net worth of more than half a billion ringgit.

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However this new fad has attracted controversy with various state governments considering an outright ban on sales of e-cigarette bands and the country’s top religious clerics issuing a fatwa (religious edict) that vaping is haram (forbidden) in Islam. National Fatwa Council chairman Tan Sri Dr Abdul Shukor Husin said the decision was made after considering all aspects including syariah law, scientific and medical evidence. “Health experts also found that vape and electronic cigarette could not help smokers and heavy smokers to quit smoking”, he said referring to the studies by the World Health Organization. He further iterated that decision is in line with various Muslim countries such as Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates which has taken a tough stance on vaping.

Other than health aspect, religious bodies also argued that e-cigarettes lead to unnecessary spending of money and can be distracting from conducting everyday activities. There is also concern that e-cigarette may be similar to tobacco cigarettes which act as a gateway drug, causing smokers to experience an addiction which will escalate to heavy drugs such as morphine and cocaine.

This ruling has received criticism from various quarters of the public from vaping enthusiasts to constitutional lawyers. Small and Middle Entrepreneurs Association which represent the vaping industry questioned the double standard by the authorities on the prohibition of e-cigarettes but no enforcement on tobacco cigarettes.”Why are they not banning cigarettes?Is it because you see Malay leaders and MPs smoking in Parliament so you don’t want to ban cigarettes? Please be fair with your decisions and not act unprofessionally”,said the association president Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah referring to the reports of elected representatives taking a puff between parliamentary sittings.

Lawyers have argued that the states have no authority to enforce a ban on e-cigarettes and that the decision by the National Fatwa Council not binding unless it is gazetted by the state governments. “For them to enforce such a ban, the state fatwa committee must have a fatwa gazetted and it would come under the state’s Shariah criminal offence enactments”, said lawyer Syahredzan Johan. He further stated that issues related to health is under federal jurisdiction in line with the Federal Constitution.

While the vaping industry is facing numerous hurdles, entrepreneurs such as Aimran Abdul Rajak believes that they will wade through the storm. “We need some kind of regulation because vaping can really contribute to the health sector and economy”, said the Vape Empire businessman. While he acknowledge that the long term effects of vaping is unknown, the effects of smoking tobacco cigarettes is scientifically proven.”So isn’t vaping a better alternative?”, he further added.

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Electronic Cigarette: Description of Product and Function

In light of the National Health Services (NHS) decision to include electronic cigarettes as part of their stop smoking prescriptions, I went to the House of Vapes at Shoreditch High Street and meet store manager Gregory Fulop to get an insight on how e-cigarettes differs from tobacco cigarette and have him describe the product

 

Fingerroot: From Traditional Medicine to Wonder Drug?

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New studies has indicated that Boesenbergia rotunda displayed various therapeutic properties. Commonly referred to as fingerroot, this plant is part of the Boesenbergia genera under the Zingiberaceae family. In other words,it is the distant cousin of the common ginger plant. With a wide distribution in tropical climates from Southeast Asia to Latin America, it is regularly used for culinary and medicinal purposes.

B. rotunda is commonly used  in countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, India and China.Traditionally, it is regularly applied as a spice condiment for food such as soup and curry to enhance flavor and scent. This plant is used as a aphrodisiac among Thai folks. The plant’s medicinal application is more broad. Fingerroot juice produced via boling of the rhizome can treat gastrointestinal disorders, stomach ache, diarrhea and peptic ulcer. Consumption of its leaves has been shown to alleviate food allergies.Other than that, it can also treat muscle pain, inflammatory diseases, skin disorders and dental complications such as caries.

This wide application of B. rotunda has prompted the scientific community to carried out studies to verify its medicinal properties and determine whether its metabolite can further exploited for drug development.

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Over the years, researchers have isolated several bioactive compounds which have displayed significant medicinal potential using various procedures. These compounds include pinocembrin, pinostrobin, panduratin A, alpinetin and cardamonin. Toxocity test shows that the plant extract does not produce any adverse effects regardless of the dosage.

Combination of various bioactive compounds has been determined to possess anti-mutagenic properties which inactivates chemical agents that can alter or disrupt DNA replication. A subsequent study indicated that pinocembrin and other compounds can inhibit replication of human promyelocytic leukemia cells in an in vivo study model, deeming the compound as anti-leukemia.

Fingerroot extract has also displayed anti fungal activities and modern technology has enabled researchers to determine the compound’s mechanism of action in inducing such an effect. A study has shown that inhibition of calcium ion signalling in fungi’s physiological pathway can lead to abnormal morphology and growth disruption.

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Extracts of fingerroot plant can potentially solved bacteria related problems due to its proven antimicrobial properties. Pinostrobin  derived from the roots inhibits growth of Helicobacter pylori which is linked to gastric and colon cancer. A subsequent study also indicated that the plant extract can inhibit growth of food spoiling bacteria such as Bacillus cereus and Staphylococcus aureus, making the plant a potential source of phytochemicals which can be further processed to develop antimicrobial drugs and food preservatives.

The antioxidant properties of the extract of fingerroot rhizomes involved reducing the amount of highly reactive and unstable group of atoms called free radicals, reducing the risk of heart complications and high blood pressure. Fingerroot extract also exhibited the highest inhibition rate towards breast cancer cells and colon cancer cell growth compared with extracts of other plants in the Zingiber species. The study by Kirana et al. shows that the phytochemicals in the plant extract can be potentially utilized to treat cancer.

While the results are promising, there is still much to be done to validate these findings in terms of identifying the exact compound which induce these therapeutic effects and accurately determining the safe dosage to avoid any adverse effects to the human body. Positive preliminary findings and the advance in molecular technology will no doubt motivate scientists in thoroughly study the plant’s molecular pathway, biochemical and genetic properties in order to obtain a clearer understanding of the plant’s wide inhibition on multiple diseases and accelerate the development of modern drugs to combat these illnesses.