KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Cabinet has decided not to ban e-cigarettes and vaporisers but it is controversially cracking down on the sale of vaping products containing nicotine.
Malaysia's Health Minister had told Channel NewsAsia he was looking into a possible ban on vaping. The government has been concerned about the long-term health risks and fears that people who never smoked before were taking up vaping for fun.
Vaporisers, a type of electronic device, produces vapour one can inhale in a variety of flavours, and it often contains nicotine.
In a statement on Monday (Nov 9), Director General of Health Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said while there would be no ban, under existing legislation, the sale of e-liquids containing nicotine can only be supplied by licensed pharmacists and registered medical practitioners. The sale also has to be recorded.
He said under the Poisons Act in Malaysia, the sale of nicotine is prohibited by other parties as well.
The government has already begun raiding vaping suppliers, seizing items containing nicotine, much to the chagrin of shop owners.
"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."
It is an argument put forth by the Vice President of the Malaysian E-Vaporisers and Tobacco Alternatives Association (MEVTA) Rizani Zakaria as well, who used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day before discovering vaporisers.
"It really cured me, it really helped me quit smoking," he said.
Unlike cigarettes, vaping does not involve tobacco or second hand smoke. But it has fast become a favourite past time in Malaysia - and not just to wean smokers off cigarettes. One vaping association said at least 500,000 Malaysians vape, while another said the number is close to a million.
This has concerned the Ministry of Health, as the long-term effects of vaping are still being studied although some studies say it is much healthier than smoking.
Some vaping advocates understand the government's concern given the lack of regulation of the industry in Malaysia as well.
"Vaping is now out of control. Everybody is selling it without knowledge, underage (people are) getting to vape, non smokers (are) also trying to vape, and it becomes a trend," said Rizani. "This is not a trend. This is (the same as) medicine for you."
But MEVTA feels the government has been acting too rashly in its crackdown on nicotine products.
Rather than being at loggerheads with the government, it wants to work with officials to come up with proposals to regulate the industry altogether. It sees the vaping industry as a potential revenue stream for Malaysia as well.
MEVTA said Malaysia's vaping market is only second to that of the United States and was worth an estimated RM2.8 billion (US$639 million) in 2014.