KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 – The government has removed liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes and vape from the Poisons List of controlled substances to enable taxation on e-liquids.
This astounding move in Malaysia’s history of tobacco control effectively legalises e-cigarettes and vape with nicotine without any regulations in place, as the current Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004 under the Food Act 1983 only cover conventional cigarettes and other tobacco products.
The Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 – which seeks to regulate both tobacco and vape products, besides a ban on these products for anyone born from 2007 – has yet to be tabled in the current 15th Parliament.
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa gazetted an order today to exempt nicotine “preparation of a kind used for smoking through electronic cigarette and electric vaporising device, in the form of liquid or gel” from the Poisons List under the Poisons Act 1952 – overriding the Poisons Board that unanimously rejected the proposal last Wednesday.
Shockingly, the Excise Duties (Amendment) Order 2023 – which subjects e-cigarette liquid or gel containing nicotine to excise duty of 40 sen per millilitre – gazetted by Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is also the prime minister, was dated last March 29, the same day as the Poisons Board meeting. The tax on e-liquids with nicotine comes into effect tomorrow.
CodeBlue reported that the Poisons Board, an independent body formed under the Poisons Act, wholly objected to the government’s proposal to exclude liquid nicotine from the Poisons List on the basis that the harm of allowing e-cigarettes and vape to be sold to anyone, including children, outweighed the benefit of tax revenue from such products containing nicotine, a highly addictive substance.
According to slides presented by the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Pharmaceutical Services Programme as the secretariat at the Poisons Board meeting, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) sought the declassification of liquid nicotine as a controlled substance for taxation purposes, as well as to provide legal access to users of e-cigarettes and vape containing nicotine and local manufacturing of these products.
Other countries are struggling with vaping “epidemics” among teenagers, such as the United Kingdom, even with existing regulations of vape and e-cigarettes. The UK prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products to anyone aged under 18; purchase of these products by anyone aged under 18 is also illegal.
UK regulations of e-cigarettes include a cap on the nicotine content of e-liquids to 2 per cent; a ban on certain ingredients like colourings, caffeine and taurine; new labelling requirements and warnings; and restricting e-cigarette tanks to a capacity of no more than 2ml, among others.
Malaysia has none of these regulations, nor restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine to people below 18 (unlike tobacco products). Nicotine content in e-cigarette or vape liquids here can be as high as 5 per cent. Malaysia also does not have prohibitions on the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of e-cigarettes or vape.
The Malaysian Medical Association, the Malaysian Pharmacists Society, and the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy previously issued statements denouncing the move to exclude nicotine from control under the Poisons Act, saying that this ran contrary to public health and would lead to cheap vape disposables containing high concentrations of liquid nicotine to flood the market.
Dr Zaliha, a medical doctor by training, issued a statement last January 25 to express her concern about the promotion, advertising, and sale of e-cigarettes and vape products that resembled children’s toys. She had also noted then that the sale of liquid nicotine was controlled under the Poisons Act.