‘Regulate first, tax later’

Appealing to the youngsters: Vape and electronic cigarettes are new-generation smoking products being marketed by the tobacco companies as young people are not inclined to consume conventional cigarettes. — AZMAN GHANi/The Star

PETALING JAYA: With Budget 2023 proposing a tax on nicotine-based products used in electronic cigarettes, questions of regulation, enforcement and direction have arisen.

International Islamic University Malaysia’s Department of Pharmacy Practice Assoc Prof Dr Mohamad Haniki Nik Mohamed said ideally, the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, or Generational Endgame (GEG) Bill, should have preceded the tax measure.

“Who is going to enforce the rules or regulate the industry? How are they going to address the contents of the liquid?

“These are questions we need to know as well as the amount of tax, pricing and measure of nicotine content.

“Sure, in the short term, we will be able to reap the revenue through taxing but in the long term, where does it lead to?”

He added that there was no point to taxing such products if RM3bil in revenue is collected but the cost of health treatments is RM6bil.

“So essentially, we will be back at square one,” he said when contacted.

Malaysian Organisation of Vape Entity president Samsul Kamal Ariffin said that when the tax is imposed, there will be some reduction in vaping because of the price increase, but it would also lead to people looking at illicit products.

This, in turn, would create leakages in the tax system.

“So, any implementation must come with enforcement because we want safe products in the market, and all this can be managed through regulation,” he said.

National Cancer Society Malaysia managing director Dr Murallitharan Munisamy said the move to impose a tax is a silent nod to legalising vaping.

“We need a lot of regulation, as we have with food products, with quality assessments, what is allowed, and the contents.

“The announcement only mentioned nicotine products, not all vape-related products. If we want to deter it, we’ll have to tax all the non-nicotine ones as well with different tariffs,” he added.

Dr Murallitharan also called for the GEG Bill to be passed soon.

He hailed the announcement that half of the revenue collected from the vape tax would be pumped into health services.

Muhammad Sha’ani, the Tobacco Control Coordinator at the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca), said the introduction of a tax on vape is not expected to reduce its use as the quantum would be small compared to the tax on conventional cigarettes.

“Vape and electronic cigarettes are new-generation smoking products being marketed by the tobacco companies as young people are not inclined to consume conventional cigarettes.

“This was recorded in National Health and Morbidity Surveys,” he said.

Muhammad said that although nicotine is currently not allowed for retail sale, over 90% of vape products on sale contain nicotine, which, under the Poisons Act 1952, can only be dispensed by a doctor or pharmacist.

When tabling the revised Budget 2023 on Friday, Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said nicotine vape liquids are still illegally sold with an estimated over RM2bil in sales.

The government, he said, is planning to channel half of the excise duties to the Health Ministry in support of the GEG Bill.

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