M’sian parents on alert as ads for energy sticks (nasal inhalers) target young schoolkids

Take a sniff before entering class to stay energised – that’s what sellers of “energy sticks” on social media have been telling kids.

Junaid Ibrahim, Gerard Gimino and Ragananthini Vethasalam

Junaid Ibrahim, Gerard Gimino and Ragananthini Vethasalam

The Star


Representative image. PHOTO: THE STAR

February 13, 2024

PETALING JAYA – Take a sniff before entering class to stay energised – that’s what sellers of “energy sticks” on social media are telling our kids.

And, yes, judging by the language used in these ads, these sellers are deliberately targeting children – not teens, but even younger children – with the sticks sold in fruity flavours appealing to young noses, like mint, lemon, durian, peach, and blackcurrant, among others.

Earlier this month, the Health Ministry responded to complaints from the public and said that action would be taken against sellers of such products.

However, checks on several ecommerce and social media platforms yesterday showed the products are still available.

They cost between RM2.50 and RM18.70 a stick. Bundle packages are also sold, with a “free gift” for purchasing a pack of five sticks.

The sticks seen advertised online have either a single inhaler or double-pronged inhalers.

Some social media users even do reviews and tutorials showing how to use the sticks, just as you would expect from any normal product.

However, these are not “normal products”.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan said these products have not been registered with the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency as required by the Sale of Drugs Act 1952.

Those who sell unregistered health products are in breach of Rule 7(1) (a) of the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations 1984. Those found guilty face a fine of up to RM25,000 or up to three years’ jail or both for the first offence.

Dr Muhammad Radzi said advertisements for the products will be taken down from popular ecommerce platforms.

The ads are compelling for stressed young students – “If you’re always sleepy, buy this,” read the caption on one of the posts.

Sellers make all sorts of claims about the energy sticks, that they can reduce anxiety and stress and help users to relax.

A majority of the sticks sold online are imported from China.

One China-based seller claims that the product “has no prohibited items” such as alcohol or nicotine, instead offering products infused with “edible menthol and plant essential oils”; almost 11,000 units have been sold, according to site figures. Another seller said their product contained hemp.

Some sellers who spoke to The Star said that sales were only done online, though one person said his stock comes from headquarters in Penang.

A 47-year-old woman who only wanted to be known as Nina said her 17-year-old daughter had asked for an energy stick after seeing friends use them at her school and tuition centre.

“I was worried because I didn’t know what it was. Then I Googled it and it looked quite worrying,” said the mother of two.

“I am worried that it may cause health issues as it is unregulated and we don’t know what the contents are. And children may turn to vaping or drugs in the future after trying this,” she added.

She said her daughter’s school had confiscated some energy sticks from students.

According to Consumers Association of Penang senior education officer NV Subbarow, the flavours advertised could be appealing to children.

He said he has received many complaints from parents and teachers on the use of these “energy sticks”.

“One of the students who bought these sticks told me that students preferred using the energy stick to vaping as it gave some sort of stimulation and they felt more energetic,” he said.

Subbarow called for both the Health and Education ministries to take action on the matter.

“The future of Malaysian children’s health is in question,” he said.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) chief executive officer Saravanan Thambirajah said the products should not be sold as their functions have not been tested or certified by any agencies in Malaysia, adding that they have not been medically proven either.

He said the government must take the necessary actions immediately to stop all social media platforms selling these items and to take the advertisements down immediately.

“Extensive enforcement has to be done on the ground. At the ports, the government has to ramp up security and checkpoints to ensure these products are not brought into the country.

“If this (product) is not curbed, we have another issue of addiction to chemicals,” he said.

“Fomca also advises consumers and children not to be taken in by misleading advertisements,” Saravanan said.

He called on the Health Ministry to work hand-in-hand with the Domestic Trade and Cost of Living Ministry to identify where the items are being sold so immediate action can be taken.

“Ecommerce platforms must also have some sort of responsibility towards consumers. If they see such products being sold there, they should take action on their own and remove them from the platform,” he said.

Efforts to contact ecommerce platforms are underway.

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