Malaysia vape crackdown sparks confusion

Vapes are becoming a major Malaysian export

Malaysia’s crackdown on its booming vape trade has caused alarm from Chinese manufacturers who export to the Southeast Asian state, an advocacy group says.

Malaysian E-Vaporisers and Tobacco Alternative Association (Mevta) chairman Allan Foo, who is currently in Shenzhen, China, for a conference with vape traders, said Malaysia was a massive trader in vape devices and liquids.

Vaporisers, a type of electronic device, produces vapour one can inhale in a variety of flavours, and it often contains nicotine, which was the target of recent Health Ministry raids.

“They’re worried because Malaysia is their second-largest market, after the US,” Foo told Malay Mail Online.

Malaysia’s vape policy is contradictory.

Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob has urged vape entrepreneurs to expand their businesses and said yesterday he wanted to see Malaysian vape products become world famous.

“Even without government support, Mevta has been trying to do what Ismail Sabri has been asking us to do,” Foo said. “Malaysian products are around the world right now”.

He said Malaysian vape businesses had been expanding overseas since 2013 and had started the industry in Indonesia.

According to Foo, Malaysian firms had operations in Jakarta, Medan and Bandung. In China, Malaysian vape entrepreneurs were focused on Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, he said.

“These are the two countries we have the closest ties with. That is how Malaysia became the second-largest [vape] liquid producer, because we have backup from these two countries,” he said.

Foo said Malaysia was the second-largest market for vaping after the USA in terms of purchasing power, not the number of consumers. Mevta said Malaysia’s vaping market was worth an estimated RM2.8 billion (US$639 million) in 2014.

He said Mevta was working with vape advocacy groups in Canada and the US.

Foo said the group was giving legal advice to members after the Health Ministry led raids on Malaysian vape stores last week, seizing nicotine products.

He said the group was awaiting further instruction from the government on how to avoid further raids.

The Health Ministry appears to be demanding a vape prohibition but other ministries like regional development and the trade and consumer departments are far more encouraging.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin this week reportedly described the raids on vape shops by the Health Ministry as rash.

The cabinet has decided not to ban e-cigarettes and vaporisers but it is controversially cracking down on the sale of vaping products containing nicotine.

On November 9, Director General of Health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said he was looking into a possible ban on vaping, expressing fears that non-smokers might take up vaping for fun.

He said e-liquids containing nicotine could only be supplied by licensed pharmacists and registered medical practitioners. Sale had to be recorded.

“If there’s no nicotine, there’s no point vaping”, said Mohd Nizam Khani, owner of Vaping Barber Putrajaya. “Nicotine is what helps us reduce our addiction to cigarettes.”

Mevta vice president Rizani Zakaria said he used to smoke three cigarette packs a day before discovering vaporisers.

“It really cured me, it really helped me quit smoking,” he said.

Vaping does not involve tobacco or second-hand smoke but it has fast become a favourite past time in Malaysia, and not just among smoking addicts. A vaping association said at least 500,000 Malaysians vape, while another put the number closer to a million.

The long-term vaping effects are still being studied, although research suggests it is far healthier than smoking.

“Vaping is now out of control. Everybody is selling it without knowledge, under age [people are] getting to vape, non-smokers also … vape, and it becomes a trend,” said Rizani. “This is not a trend. This is medicine.”

 

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