UAE airport customs targeting vapers in cannabidiol crackdown

Police and customs have caught 97 users since January – up from just two in the same period last year

Flavoured e-cigarettes could be taken off the shelves in the US due to concerns over young people taking up vaping. The UAE legalised the sale of electronic cigarettes in April.Dan Kitwood / Getty Images
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Dubai's police and customs officers have caught almost 100 people smoking cannabis oil through vaping devices and e-cigarettes this year.

The city's most senior narcotics officer said 97 users were arrested in the first three months of 2019 – up from just two in the same period last year – mostly at border entry points.

Brigadier Eid Thani Hareb said most had the substance, known as cannabidiol oil or CBD oil, disguised as legal vaping oil in their devices. It is illegal in the UAE and treated the same as cannabis, marijuana and other drugs. The minimum sentence for possession is two years, but the penalties for smuggling larger quantities are often 10 years or more.

The seizures, revealed at the Hemaya drugs forum in Dubai, came amid global warnings that the oil has become an attractive gateway drug for young people.

“Drugs continue to pose a great challenge for all governments and organisations and this new way of taking drugs has recently surfaced," he said.

"We need to warn parents and draw their attention to it."

He also said "hundreds" of seizures had been made in parcels and boxes shipped into the country.

Brig Hareb warned of the broader health risks of vaping any substance, legal or illegal.

It is of utmost importance that parents do not look at these e-cigarettes and vaping devices as harmless toys

“It is of utmost importance that parents do not look at these e-cigarettes and vaping devices as harmless toys because they may in fact lead to addiction,” he said.

Earlier at the forum in Dubai, academics, addiction specialists and law enforcement officials heard that 70 new drugs had been detected in the past year, and that between two and four per cent of the UAE population are believed to use narcotics, mostly prescription drugs.

Earlier this year, the UAE's product regulatory authority Esma said shops would be allowed to sell vaping devices and e-cigarettes for the first time. The devices carry the same age limit, 18, as traditional cigarettes.

Until April, selling the devices was against the law, though, as with counterfeit handbags and fake goods, it is not an offence to own or purchase one.

Marwan Al Sawaleh, undersecretary of the Ministry of Education, said the broader issue of vaping is a concern in schools.

“We focus more on prevention and spreading awareness among pupils and their families," he said.

"And it's important to say that school staff are well trained to pick up any signs of pupils vaping or using e-cigarettes."

He said drug use in schools is rare but that the authorities are aware it does happen.

“We don’t hide cases of pupils using drugs, on the contrary, we ensure to report it to authorities while simultaneously provide care and guidance for these pupils," he said.