By Chong CL

WHILE cigarette smoking is on a downtrend due to the success of anti tobacco campaigns by the Government and greater awareness of a healthy lifestyle, there has been an alarmingly rapid growth in the popularity of vaping.

While the vaping culture has had run-ins with the Government since 2014, by and large it has benefitted from a lack of regulation and an explosion in terms of market choices especially from China.

A variety of vaping devices and the vape potion or juices are readily available and easily accessible to everyone in Malaysia. Just with a click of a button online, anyone could get hold of this device and be hooked to this habit.

Furthermore, vape potions have a variety of flavour options one can go for- from creme brulee to bubble-gum and there is no standardized amount how much nicotine or what other substances that could be mixed in the potion. There is no regulation, no oversight body and definitely no industry standards to guide what goes into the mix and what is the “correct” level of mixes.

This is not to mention that vape liquids also have high nicotine concentration levels (up to 5% or higher) which increases the dependence on the substance. In short, if you are on it you will be addicted to it.

There have been much evidence in the US in particular where users have had severe cases of damaged lungs due to either low safety standards of vaping devices or dangerous vaping substances such as THC.

While there may be some truth to the claim that this alternative to cigarettes is a safer option than smoking cigarettes- and that is missing the point here, the bigger problem is it lures new users who may have not smoked a cigarette before.

This is particularly true for youth. Vaping is not just a trend, but it is also a cheap thrill for the youths. It is far cheaper to buy vaping products rather than to buy cigarettes which are expensive due to high taxes imposed by the Government.

Last year the Minister of Finance, Senator Tengku Zafrul announced during Budget 2021 that the Government will introduce a vape tax- this is a step in the right direction, but the proposed tax is too low at RM 0.40 ml for vaping liquid which is less than USD 10 cents. The move by the Ministry of Finance pales in comparison to developed countries like Korea which through a combination of taxes rake in close to USD1.50 per ml of liquid nicotine.

Setting the vape liquid tax at such a low rate will make vape which is already appealing to youths, all the more appealing.

This goes against the very essence of what the Government should be doing which is to guard youths from vaping and to rid of smoking incidences overall.

The Government must do more when it comes to preventing youths from vaping and one clear way to do it is to make sure that the tax on the vaping liquid (especially ones with nicotine) is set higher, possibly closer to other tobacco products. The Government must send a strong signal that it understands the risks of vaping and the repercussions it will have on the youths.

Will the Ministry of Finance bear responsibility for the uptick of vaping culture in Malaysia with such favourable low taxes on the addictive vaping liquid? Will the Ministry of Health please offer some advice to the Ministry of Finance?

Segamat

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