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Man's illegal online e-cigarette business derailed by HSA, fined S$45,000

Man's illegal online e-cigarette business derailed by HSA, fined S$45,000

A man smokes an e-cigarette in Toronto, Aug 7, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Mark Blinch)

SINGAPORE: To carry out an illicit online business selling electronic cigarettes and related accessories, a man invested about S$10,000 and operated for a year and eight months before the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) caught him in a set-up.

Max Sim Jia Liang, 34, was fined S$45,000 for his crimes on Thursday (Jul 16). If he cannot pay the fine, he will have to serve 149 days in jail.

He pleaded guilty to 25 charges under the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act, with another 56 charges taken into consideration.

The court heard that Sim began running his online business in January 2016, spending about S$10,000 to buy illicit stocks of e-cigarettes, components and liquids from an online Malaysian supplier operating on Instagram.

He arranged for such stocks to be delivered to him on at least seven occasions over 17 months.

Sim spent some time advertising and promoting his stocks online to widen his customer base, eventually operating on Carousell, Instagram, WhatsApp and WeChat, on top of friends' recommendations.

He advertised e-cigarettes, their components, e-liquids with nicotine and Armodafinil tablets - medication for sleep disorders - for sale.

Sim sold at least three sets of e-cigarette sets to buyers in Tampines, Keppel Bay Condominium and Clementi Mall in 2017. He also sold components of imitation tobacco products to at least three buyers that year via WeChat.

He sold at least 60 bottles of e-liquids containing nicotine on 11 occasions to 11 different buyers, hand-delivering them to places like Woodlands, Sengkang West and Tampines.

READ: Teens found vaping in MRT train issued warnings, fined


HSA's Tobacco Regulation Branch received information from online surveillance that Sim was selling e-cigarettes and related paraphernalia through an account name known as "maclicious" on Carousell.

On Aug 30, 2017, an HSA-authorised officer arranged a test purchase with Sim via Carousell, saying he wanted to buy four bottles of e-liquids for S$190.

The pair met up on Sep 4, 2017, in Boon Lay. When Sim arrived to pass the officer his items, HSA officers at the scene identified themselves and searched Sim's rented vehicle.

They found an assortment of e-cigarettes and their components, along with e-liquids containing nicotine.

Sim then led HSA officers back to his home, where they found more such items and seized them.

E-liquids are "harmful tobacco products" intended to be used with an electronic delivery system or a vaporiser, the prosecutor said.

Investigations later revealed that Sim's interested buyers would send him messages online and haggle for appropriate packages and price before exchanging mobile numbers to arrange meet-ups.

Sim accepted only cash on delivery for such sale transactions.

He began selling Armodafinil tablets, an unregistered therapeutic product, for between S$6 to S$8 per tablet, about a month before he was apprehended by HSA.

The drug is used to improve wakefulness in adults with excessive sleepiness associated with narcolepsy and other sleep disorders, and includes side effects like headaches, insomnia, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Fatal overdoses have also been associated with the drug.

Sim obtained his stocks from an unidentified man known only as "Vince", whom he got to know on Carousell.

He advertised these tablets as "smart pills" or "brain boosters" and sold three strips of the tablets, making profits of about S$150.

A total of 150 such tablets were found in the front passenger seat of his vehicle the day he was apprehended by HSA.

He was allowed to pay the fine of S$45,000 in instalments by July 2021.

For each charge of selling imitation tobacco products, he could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(ac)


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