Kuala Lumpur, 01 April 2023 — “The Government’s recent decision to remove liquid or gel nicotine from the list of controlled substances scheduled under the Poisons Act 1952 is an exceptionally regressive move which has stunned many who work in public health and especially those in tobacco control,” remarked Azrul Mohd Khalib, Chief Executive of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.
“This order by the Health Minister goes against the advice by the Poisons Board which had earlier unanimously rejected this proposal. The Ministry of Finance had reportedly requested the Ministry of Health for this exemption to enable e-cigarettes and vape liquid or gels containing nicotine to be taxed beginning 1 April. It was intended to not only legitimise the use of nicotine e-cigarettes and vape, but also allow local industry to manufacture such products, which are currently mostly imported from China, so that they could also be taxed.”
“Unlike many countries, Malaysia still does not have legislation specifically for tobacco and vape control.”
“While most countries around the world are moving towards curtailing and reducing the prevalence of smoking and vaping among its population, the Malaysian government appears to be going in the opposite direction, seemingly in a desperate move to collect tax revenue. However what it has instead potentially done is open the floodgates to existing and new problems which are unable to be handled by the current healthcare and legal system,” he stated.
“Where previously nicotine was tightly controlled, this compound will now be able to be easily accessible, used and manipulated without restraint or regulation. There are now absolutely no safeguards which prevent the online sale of e-cigarettes and vape products of high nicotine concentration to anyone, including minors.”<
“How did we get from being leaders in advocating a progressive policy which aims to produce a smoke-free generation of people, to a policy which deregulates nicotine and encourages the growth of the local nicotine vape industry? Other countries were looking forward to Malaysia’s leadership on this issue,” he stated.
“To regulate vape, why not impose the same standards as those in countries such as the United Kingdom, Indonesia and New Zealand where you cannot get more than 2% nicotine, and the same restrictions imposed on cigarettes for marketing, promotion and sales? Why drop nicotine altogether from being a controlled substance? It does not make sense. Malaysia is likely to lose its credibility on the international stage and in places such as the World Health Assembly.”
“This Government decision now undermines and removes a cornerstone of anti-tobacco policy in Malaysia. Unfortunately, this country will join an exclusive group of nations which are reversing or ignoring anti-tobacco measures intended to reduce the prevalence of smoking, the number of young smokers and vapers, nicotine addiction, cancer, and premature death.”
“This decision is likely to mark the beginning of one of the biggest public health crises in Malaysia: a dramatic increase in young people and children who are addicted to nicotine, through vape. We are already going through the non-communicable diseases crisis with millions of people living with diabetes, cancer, hypertension and obesity. This will be the next one.”
“According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, 1.12 million people in this country are now using e-cigarettes. An industry survey indicated that around 68% of male respondents vaped, compared to 32% of women. At least 600,000 children between the ages of 11 and 18 have taken up vaping using disposable vape containing high concentrations of nicotine of up to 5%. Concentrations that are unavailable in other countries which regulate vape. This is causing a new epidemic of nicotine addiction not only among adults but also among young people. We are already seeing teenagers who are addicted to nicotine due to vape. Why is the government ignoring its own data and evidence?” he asked.
“This decision will also mean that nicotine will likely be misused in drinks, and food like ice cream and sweets, as it becomes easier to procure. It will likely encourage made-to-order beverage sellers and custom vape retailers to experiment with the compound. It can and will lead to cases of nicotine poisoning. There are no safety standards for nicotine. A separate legislation or regulation will need to be developed to address this newly created loophole.”
“Finally, this policy decision is short-sighted. The revenue gained from imposing taxes on locally produced and imported vape will quickly be consumed by the cost of treating the diseases that they cause. The direct cost of treating diabetes in Malaysia was estimated to be RM 4.38 billion annually. The total value of the Malaysian vape industry is estimated at RM 2 billion. The link between nicotine vape and diabetes? Nicotine vape increases a person’s risk of developing high blood sugar. Those who vape have a 22% increased risk of developing prediabetes compared to those who do not. Encouraging vaping will increase the number of people suffering from diabetes, and increase the cost on the healthcare system,” Azrul emphasised.
“We stand in solidarity with the Ministry of Health professionals, especially those in tobacco control and non-communicable diseases, who have worked tirelessly for decades to encourage Malaysians and different governments of the day of the need to bring down smoking and deal with the threat of vape. It must be incredibly frustrating for them to see this happen.”
“There is now only one remedy: the revised Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill must be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible. No more excuses, ifs and buts. Vape should be taxed but it also needs to be regulated as strictly as tobacco. That is only possible with the provisions contained in the Bill. The Government and Members of Parliament must find the moral courage and vision to step up and do the right thing.”
“No one wants their daughters and sons, grandchildren, and loved ones to become addicted to nicotine, suffer from chronic diseases such as cancer, and lose their lives prematurely. One day, we will look back at the harm and suffering caused by smoking and vaping, the lives lost prematurely, the billions spent, and wonder why we did not act sooner,” he said.
Click here to download a Policy Brief on the implications of this recent policy decision.