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Documentary reveals how easy it is for Malaysia's minors to buy vape

The Al Jazeera documentary shows not all shops bother checking customers' IDs, while some recommend flavours for beginners.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
A worker reaches for flavoured e-cigarette pods at a vape store in Kuala Lumpur.
A worker reaches for flavoured e-cigarette pods at a vape store in Kuala Lumpur.

A recent documentary by international news channel Al Jazeera has revealed how easy it is for even underaged teenagers with no history of smoking to gain access vape products or e-cigarettes in Malaysia despite industry claims of self-regulation.

In the 25-minute documentary aired several days ago, a minor was sent undercover to vape shops around the capital of Kuala Lumpur, none of which bothered checking IDs despite signs stating that the sale of such products was for customers aged 18 and above. 

"We went undercover to six vape shops in Kuala Lumpur. None of them asked our young buyer for ID before selling highly addictive nicotine-based vape products, despite four of them displaying 18+ signs," Al Jazeera said in a Twitter post. 

A shop worker was seen asking the girl if she had tried smoking before, and suggesting several flavours said to be good for beginners. 

"Are you smoking? Were you a smoker before this? You're just starting to try out?" the attendant said. 

A representative from a vape association said that the industry was practising self-regulation through measures like putting up signs on the age limit and using packaging that warns users that they are trying the products of their own volition. 

Industry players interviewed by Al Jazeera meanwhile said that the age limit had to be observed by customers themselves as there was no law governing the matter. 

"Since 2012, we have been asking the government to issue a law to regulate vape and electronic sellers," said Shahabudin Jalil, the executive director of the Nanostix vape maker.

They also maintained that vape was safer than smoking. 

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustapa was heavily criticised after removing nicotine from the Poisons Act in April – a move which health groups and experts said would facilitate the sale of gel and liquid vape to members of the public including children. 

The move came after the government imposed an excise duty on products containing nicotine, where half of the revenue is reallocated to the health ministry.

MalaysiaNow previously reported warnings from experts of a renewed push by the vape industry, with colourful packaging and attractive flavours as well as disposable pods available for as little as RM5 each. 

In April, the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control warned that even children would take to vaping in the wake of the government's move to delist nicotine gel from the Poisons Act.

"You can buy vape like you can buy curry puffs now," its chairman Dr M Murallitharan reportedly said.

The vape industry was worth an estimated RM2.49 billion as of February this year.