Thursday, September 23, 2021

More needed to tackle vaping culture among youth

A higher tax on vape liquid could go far in discouraging young people from venturing into the habit.

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While cigarette smoking is on a downtrend due to the success of anti-tobacco campaigns by the government and greater awareness about a healthy lifestyle, there has been an alarmingly rapid growth in the popularity of vaping.

While the vaping culture has had run-ins with the government since 2014, by and large it has benefitted from a lack of regulation and an explosion in terms of market choices especially from China.

A variety of vaping devices and the vape potion or juices are readily available and easily accessible to everyone in Malaysia. With just a click of a button online, anyone could get hold of this device and become hooked on this habit.

Furthermore, vape potions have a variety of flavour options one can go for – from creme brulee to bubble-gum – and there is no standardised amount of how much nicotine or what other substances that could be mixed in the potion. There is no regulation, no oversight body and definitely no industry standards to guide what goes into the mix and what is the “correct” level of mix.

This is not to mention that vape liquids also have high nicotine concentration levels (up to 5% or higher) which increases dependence on the substance. In short, if you are on it you will be addicted to it.

There has been much evidence in the US in particular where users have had severe cases of damaged lungs due to either the low safety standards of vaping devices or dangerous vaping substances such as THC.

While there may be some truth to the claim that this alternative to cigarettes is a safer option than smoking cigarettes, that is missing the point here. The bigger problem is that it lures new users who may have not smoked a cigarette before.

This is particularly true for youth. Vaping is not just a trend, it is also a cheap thrill for the youth. It is far cheaper to buy vaping products than to buy cigarettes which are expensive due to the high taxes imposed by the government.

Last year, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz announced during Budget 2021 that the government would introduce a vape tax. This is a step in the right direction, but the proposed tax is too low at RM0.40/ml for vaping liquid which is less than 10 US cents.

The move by the finance ministry pales in comparison with developed countries like South Korea which through a combination of taxes rakes in close to US$1.50 per ml of liquid nicotine.

Setting the vape liquid tax at such a low rate will make vape, which is already appealing to youths, all the more appealing.

This goes against the very essence of what the government should be doing which is to guard youths from vaping and to get rid of smoking incidences overall.

The government must do more when it comes to preventing youths from vaping. One clear way to do this is to make sure that the tax on the vaping liquid (especially ones with nicotine) is set higher, possibly closer to other tobacco products. The government must send a strong signal that it understands the risks of vaping and about the repercussions it will have on youths.

Will the finance ministry bear responsibility for the uptick in vaping culture in Malaysia with such favourable low taxes on the addictive vaping liquid? Will the health ministry please offer some advice to the finance ministry?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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