IT HAS been a few months since the government removed liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes and vape from the poisons list of controlled substances to enable taxation on e-liquids.
During the tabling of Budget 2023 on Feb 24 this year, the government had announced the proposal to impose an excise duty on liquids or gels containing nicotine used for e-cigarettes or vaping devices.
Now, Malaysia finds itself at a critical juncture in regulating the e-cigarette and vape industry. As the world shifts towards less harmful alternatives, the evolving landscape of vape and e-cigarette regulations in Malaysia highlights their crucial role in shaping a future free from tobacco smoke.
Regulations will be needed to dictate nicotine content levels, packaging, and labeling requirements, providing consumers with accurate information about the products they are using. This can help users make informed decisions and potentially support those seeking to reduce or quit traditional cigarettes.
Based on the latest data from the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2022, e-cigarette and vape use among Malaysian youths aged 13-17 rose from 9.8% in 2017 to 14.9% in 2022, while cigarette smoking rates dropped from 13.8% to 6.2%.
This increase in adolescent vapers further signals the need to shore up any gaps in legislation since the Federal Government Gazette Excise Duties (Amendment) Order 2023 imposed an excise tax at the rate of 40 sen per millilitre on e-cigarettes liquids or gels containing nicotine beginning April 1, 2023.
Protecting our youth
A dire concern echoing globally is the rising number of young individuals drawn into vaping and e-cigarette use.
The enticing allure of flavours like mango and mint, coupled with slick marketing tactics, has led to a surge in youth initiation.
Malaysia must take cues from countries like the United Kingdom, which has implemented stringent age verification measures for online sales and has seen a decline in youth vaping rates.
The UK had implemented a number of provisions under Part 6 of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPR) to not only ensure minimum standards for the safety and quality of all e-cigarettes and refill containers but also to ensure that information is provided to consumers so that they can make informed choices.
It updated requirements including:
> Restrict e-cigarette tanks to a capacity of no more than 2ml.
> Restrict the maximum volume of nicotine-containing e-liquid for sale in one refill container to 10ml.
> Restrict e-liquids to a nicotine strength of no more than 20mg/ml.
> Require nicotine-containing products or their packaging to be child-resistant and tamper evident.
> Ban certain ingredients including colourings, caffeine and taurine.
> Include new labelling requirements and warnings.
> Require all e-cigarettes and e-liquids be notified and published by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency before they can be sold.
Other countries like Australia practise standardised packaging laws, which extend to e-cigarette products and serve as a prime example of comprehensive regulation that discourages youth initiation.
By adopting elements of successful international policies, Malaysia can forge a unique regulatory path tailored to our cultural and social landscape.
Balancing laws and public health
Crafting effective vape regulations also demands a multifaceted approach involving collaboration between governmental bodies, public health advocates and industry players.
Take New Zealand where smoking prevalence currently stands at 8%. Their government emphasises active participation from all stakeholders with proper vaping regulations to provide users with comprehensive support in their transition away from nicotine dependency.
By August of this year as well, new laws will be in effect to require all vape devices to have removable or interchangeable batteries to limit the sale of inexpensive disposable devices popular amongst youth.
The success of these comprehensive tobacco control policies demonstrates how regulations can reshape societal norms – making smoking and vaping less socially acceptable and ultimately reducing their prevalence.
Countries like New Zealand and the UK have also refrained from an outright ban as to allow smokers in transition to use e-cigarettes and vape as cessation tools. Similarly, these countries have acknowledged the harm reduction potential posed by the use of heated tobacco products. Like e-cigarettes and vapes, heated tobacco products do not produce tar or carbon monoxide and have been proven by prominent public health institutions to be a better alternative to continued smoking.
This illustrates that comprehensive tobacco control policies must involve risk-proportionate regulation into its framework as to capitalise on the benefits of these different alternatives to smoking.
The road ahead
In the realm of vape and e-cigarette regulations, Malaysia stands poised for substantial transformation with the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022.
We can leverage specific examples from successful international experiences and take a collaborative approach to draw clear guidelines and regulations on vape liquid and devices.
As the nation grapples with its regulatory path, one thing remains clear: comprehensive regulations will determine if Malaysia can effectively reduce its sticky smoking rate for the benefit of public health.