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Health pressure group shocked by Anwar's about-turn on vape tax revenue

The prime minister had promised to set aside half of the tax revenue from vaping products for anti-smoking campaigns and other health-related matters.

2 minute read
Vape products have been easily accessible as the government continues to delay strict laws to curb the smoking habit, in addition to de-classifying nicotine vape liquid as a poison.
Vape products have been easily accessible as the government continues to delay strict laws to curb the smoking habit, in addition to de-classifying nicotine vape liquid as a poison.

A public health advocate has expressed shock over Putrajaya's decision to keep the tax revenue from vape products collected over the last four years in the Federal Consolidated Fund, despite an earlier promise to use it for health-related initiatives.

"Government and non-governmental organisations working in public health are going to need all the additional resources that they can get to deal with the consequences of unrestricted and unprohibited marketing and sales of disposable nicotine vape devices, including through vending machines," said the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, which has opposed the move to de-classify nicotine in vape products as a poinson to pave the way for the government to tax its sale.

"The vape tax revenue would have been used for this purpose," said Galen Centre CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is also the finance minister, recently said the government collected RM141.1 million in vape tax revenue, including RM58.55 million from nicotine-containing vape liquid products for the period from 2021 to 2024.

He had previously stated that half of the vape tax revenue would be earmarked for the health ministry, in what was seen to appease criticism that the government was trying to stop stricter anti-tobacco laws in the face of protests from the powerful tobacco lobby.

"The government supports the spirit of the generational end game (GEG) and has agreed to earmark half of the revenue from this excise duty for the Ministry of Health for efforts to improve the quality of health services and for effective anti- smoking and anti-drinking campaigns," Anwar had said during his budget speech on Feb 24 last year.

Azrul Mohd Khalib.
Azrul Mohd Khalib.

Galen Centre said the government made the promise to justify its argument that nicotine vape should not be banned.

"Half of RM141.1 million is RM70 million more funds which could help repair the damage of having nicotine vape completely deregulated for more than a year," said Azrul.

"This money is intended to complement existing allocations given to the Ministry of Health, especially in the area of health education and promotion which is severely underfunded."

Azrul said the move to allow the sale of nicotine vape without restriction has led to a dramatic increase in the number of vapers and that what was feared by opponents of the measure has now become a reality.

"It was to such an extent that even children and adolescents could freely purchase and use such cheap and widely available products containing nicotine to vape. It was and continues to not be illegal for retailers to sell them to children."

He said the health ministry's 2023 Global Adult Tobacco Survey showed that smoking has only decreased by 4% in the 12 years since 2011, while tobacco and e-cigarette users increased by 3.9%.

"The prevalence of vape surged 600%. It is obvious that vape does not reduce tobacco smoking, and is now a separate problem needing to be addressed."

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