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Differentiated Vape Regulations Needed

Differentiated Vape Regulations Needed

Malaysia has approximately 1.2 million e-cigarette users nationwide.

Akmal Hakim

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The electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) or vape culture is HUGE.

It’s estimated that there are around 68 million vape users across 49 countries worldwide in 2020.

Ever since vape products like pods, tanks, mods and disposables offer traditional cigarettes, cigars and pipe smokers a less harmful way to indulge in their nicotine habits — vaping became more than just another passing trend.

Promoted as a harm reduction alternative for people to eventually quit smoking for good, its proponents argue that vaping provides another solution to ending the global smoking epidemic and the public health problems that comes with it.

Dr Arifin Fii, a medical practitioner working with addiction therapy sees vape as a viable solution to phase out smoking as multiple studies asserted that vape products were far less harmful compared with cigarettes and were more efficient in getting smokers to quit.

For example, a report by Cochrane Review which reviewed 61 studies involving 16,759 adult smokers, found that more people stopped smoking for at least six months using nicotine vape than using nicotine replacement therapies. In New Zealand, which promotes vape as a smoking cessation tool, daily smoking rates have dropped from 16.4 per cent (between 2011 and 2012) to 9.4 per cent in 10 years (between 2020 and 2021). Similarly, in the United Kingdom (UK), smoking prevalence has declined since the country encouraged the use of vape to quit smoking. In England, the number of smokers dwindled from 7.7 million people in 2011 to 5.7 million in 2019.

Dr Arifin Fii via New Straits Times

Malaysians say vape should not be regulated like cigarettes

(Credit: twenty20photos via Envato Elements/ Malay Mail)

Here in Malaysia, there are approximately 1.2 million vape users nationwide.

Stakeholders agree that clear control and regulations for vape are what Malaysia needs moving forward to resolve this epidemic.

A recent poll conducted by the Malaysian Vapers Alliance (MVA) that surveyed around 1,000 local vape users found that 84% of them believed that they are less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

Meanwhile, 90% agreed that regulations must differentiate between vape and traditional tobacco products

Read More: Majority Of Malaysian Vapers Believe Vape & Cigarettes Shouldn’t Be Regulated The Same Way

(Credit: VapeClubMY/E-Liquids UK via Unsplash)

MVA President Khairil Azizi Khairuddin also stressed that vape products are entirely different from traditional tobacco products.

He said that a balance must be struck to ensure that vape remains available and safe for the users that need it.

Vape has already changed the lives of millions of smokers for the better globally and locally, and we can continue in this traction if regulators develop a framework that is differentiated and evidence-based. For example, 79% of vape users have indicated that they use vape liquids containing 40mg to 50mg nicotine. If regulations cap nicotine levels lower than that threshold, then 85% have said that they will resort to purchasing vape liquids that are not regulated.

MVA President Khairil Azizi Khairuddin

Regulations needed for consumer safety and economic benefit

Pankajkumar Bipinchandrahad, the managing director of local think-tank Datametrics Research & Information Centre (DARE) implored the government to introduce regulations or guidelines for vape products to ensure their standard of quality and safety for consumers.

The economist also noted that the government should tax vape products appropriately at the right rate to encourage smokers to quit as well as a source of revenue for the country.

Pankajkumar said that not taxing vape means that Malaysia is potentially losing out on an estimated RM1 billion in uncollected tax revenue.

He also explains that taxes on vape products cannot be set too high because it would defeat the purpose of reducing smoking prevalence.

The taxation on vape products ought to be risk-proportionate to encourage smokers to switch to vaping and quit smoking. The RM1.20 per millilitre excise duty as announced under Budget 2022 by the Finance Minister is rather too high and effectively will make vaping more expensive than cigarettes. This defeats the purpose of using the product as a strategy to reduce smoking prevalence.

DARE Managing Director via The Malaysian Reserve

Prohibition seen as ineffective

(Credit: Miera Zulyana/Malay Mail)

Additionally, local health experts agree that a prohibition on vape may be detrimental towards achieving this goal.

Dr Arifin also clarified that a ban on all things nicotine is unlikely to curb addiction.

It is also important to remember that it is not only nicotine dependence that makes quitting traditional cigarettes difficult. For some, smoking offers relief and other psycho-social pleasure. This often makes the physical act of smoking just as difficult to quit as nicotine smoking provides. Although nicotine addiction keeps people smoking, it is the smoke from combustion which releases thousands of harmful constituents into the body at dangerous levels, leading to deaths.

Dr Arifin Fii via New Straits Times

Meanwhile, HELP University Institute of Crime and Criminology senior lecturer R. Paneir Selvam said that such a ban would only serve as a trigger for people to smoke instead.

Young adults are often tempted to rebel and seek for ʻforbidden pleasuresʼ. So, a generational tobacco ban intentionally targets them might actually provoke them to start smoking.

HELP University Institute of Crime and Criminology senior lecturer R. Paneir Selvam via New Straits Times

He further explained that prohibition would only allow for criminals to make benefits out of the situation by selling contraband products.

A ban also enables organised crime gangs to flourish their illegal businesses through mass production of cheaper and harmful counterfeit alternatives. In the case of tobacco, contraband cigarettes are already gaining traction in Malaysia, and a ban will further exacerbate this.

HELP University Institute of Crime and Criminology senior lecturer R. Paneir Selvam via New Straits Times

He concluded that the government should introduce regulations to distinguish vape products from traditional tobacco products to counter cases of underaged usage and remains strictly a tool to quit smoking.

Imposing a ban on tobacco consumption is neither practical nor economically viable in the long run. Furthermore, the state should guide consumers to make informed decisions, and not dictate their consumption options.

HELP University Institute of Crime and Criminology senior lecturer R. Paneir Selvam via New Straits Times

Read More: Malaysia’s ‘Shadow Economy’ Explained By A Comedian & An Economist

In terms of policy, Sarawakian lawmaker Datuk Seri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah feels that the government should not be hasty to ban the sale of all smoking products including vape. He was referring to the Ministry of Health’s proposal to ban anyone born after 2005 to access both cigarettes and vaping.

He pointed out the government needed to study the repercussions of an all-out ban and what’s installed for the future and eluded to the fact that health policies tend to change over time and with each new administration.

Abdul Karim instead emphasised the need to educate the public and advocate a non-smoking culture in Malaysian society.

There is no need to make a hasty decision, and I am not encouraging anyone to smoke, but we should educate the public on the matter instead. There must be some kind of education or effort to ensure that the target group do not become smokers.

Sarawak Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Minister Datuk Seri Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah via Focus Malaysia

The vape industry is set to grow

However, the use of vape is still technically unregulated in Malaysia.

The Vape Consumer Association of Malaysia (VCAM) explains that regulations are needed in order to ensure consumers are accessing regulated products.

Regulations can help ensure that nicotine vape products are only sold to adult consumers in a safe and legal manner. Promoting accurate information sharing by the authorities and regulating nicotine vapes is crucial to ensure proper usage, so that there is better awareness of vaping as a smoking cessation tool. Smokers, who are already buying nicotine vapes to help them stop smoking, can be assured of product safety when quality standards are implemented. Right now, consumers buying nicotine vapes have no choice but to purchase from the black market and the risks are real.

VCAM president Tengku Aslahuddin Ja’afar via The Edge

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