Malaysia has joined the global debate over vaping. However, its situation is unique as religion and a growing vape economy clash.
Singapore and Thailand have banned vaping. Globally, sales of e-cigarettes remain largely free in most countries, including the U.S. and the U.K, according to an article published in the Asian Review. Other territories have opted for regulation short of a ban (the EU will introduce revised rules in May, including a maximum concentration of nicotine for liquids).
A third approach is to license e-cigarettes as medical or therapeutic devices, positioning vaping as a means to help smokers quit their habit. An independent review by England’s public health authority found that e-cigarettes were 95 percent less harmful than traditional tobacco, and had the potential to help smokers quit.
However, Malaysia faces two additional problems. One is that amid pressure from Muslim leaders and some health activists, bans on e-cigarettes have already been announced in several of the country’s 13 states. In the weeks leading up to January — when bans came into force — state authorities in Johor and Kelantan raided hundreds of shops, seizing equipment and liquids. In the central state of Negeri Sembilan, Muslims were told to stop vaping after Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council declared electronic cigarettes “haram,” or forbidden, in Islam. A fatwa has long existed on smoking.
The second problem is that the rapid growth of vaping has created a major new industry of producers, distributors and retailers serving at least half a million of Malaysia’s 4.6 million smokers, according to Hong Leong Investment Bank, a local bank. Most of the companies involved are small and medium sized businesses that could face extinction if a national ban is imposed. Conversely, tobacco companies and manufacturers and retailers of anti-smoking aids such as nicotine pouches are threatened if vaping survives.
The Malaysian E-Vaporizers and Tobacco Alternative Association (MEVTA), which represents about 200 vaping-related businesses, estimates that sales reached 2 billion ringgit in 2015. The industry has also begun to export to countries such as Indonesia and China, according to MEVTA.
The organization says Malaysian companies produce as many as 2 million bottles of e-liquid each month, which they sell for between 30 and 35 ringgit each. Vapers tend to get through about four bottles a month.