KUALA LUMPUR, August 21 – The retail value for Malaysia’s vape market grew by 53 per cent from RM2.27 billion in 2019 to RM3.48 billion in 2023, according to an industry report.
The Malaysian Vape Industry Study 2023 by the Malaysian Vape Chamber of Commerce (MVCC) also revealed that the number of adult vape or e-cigarette users in Malaysia increased by 27 per cent from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.4 million in 2022.
Malaysia’s vape industry workforce also grew 110 per cent from 15,000 workers directly employed in the industry in 2019 to 31,500 in 2022. This comprised 22,500 workers in general retail stores that sell vape and 9,000 in vape specialty stores.
The number of vape specialty or retail shops selling only vape products declined to 2,500 last year from 3,000 in 2019, while the availability of vape products rose to around 7,500 general retail stores in 2022.
MVCC’s report estimated an increase of vape importers to 100 last year, while the number of vape manufacturers stood at 250.
The figures were derived from MVCC’s study of 306 vape industry players in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Melaka, and Penang from November 2022 to January 2023, as well as another among 1,000 adult vape users aged 18 and above in April 2023 – before the deregulation of liquid nicotine as a scheduled poison last March 31.
Eight In 10 Adult Vape Users Aged Below 40, Seven In 10 Vape Users Still Smoke
Despite MVCC saying that its consumer study was conducted among adults aged 18 and above, there were supposedly zero 18-year-olds according to its age breakdown: 43 per cent (30 to 39 years old), 39 per cent (19 to 29 years old), 15 per cent (40 to 49 years old), and 3 per cent (50 years old and above).
About eight in 10 vape users (82 per cent) were aged below 40.
The National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS): Adolescent Health Survey 2022 found that the prevalence of current e-cigarette or vape users among teenagers aged 13 to 17 rose from 9.8 per cent in 2017 to 14.9 per cent in 2022. About 6.2 per cent of female adolescents in that age group currently used e-cigarettes or vape.
MVCC’s 2023 report excluded a gender breakdown of vape users in its study. Its 2021 report found that 32 per cent of vape users were female.
According to the 2023 report, 70 per cent of vape users were Malay.
About 68 per cent of vape users were “white collar and businessmen”. Nearly half (47 per cent) of vape users were degree holders, followed by diploma holders (25 per cent) and Form Five SPM graduates (20 per cent).
MVCC’s report also found that about seven in 10 vape users (69 per cent) were still smoking, while 31 per cent “no longer smoke”.
The industry study supposedly did not find vape users who picked up e-cigarettes without having previously smoked tobacco.
“The rise of the vape industry is due to concerns users have about traditional cigarettes, and their desire for less harmful alternatives. Vaping is seen as a less harmful alternative, generating vapour instead of smoke, and is increasingly recognised as an effective less harmful alternative to quit smoking traditional cigarettes,” MVCC claimed.
“Consequently, more individuals, particularly recreational smokers and those seeking to quit entirely, are switching to vape products.”
Disposable Vape ‘Quickly Gained Market Share In A Short Time’
MVCC’s 2023 report found that disposable vape products “quickly gained market share in a short time”, comprising 32 per cent of the market currently. Open systems declined from 77 per cent of the market in 2019 to 50 per cent currently, while closed system vapes dropped five points from 23 per cent to 18 per cent.
Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of vape users vaped every day.
Unlike its 2021 report that omitted details on preference for nicotine vape liquids – before the legalisation of nicotine vape this year (outside medical use) – MVCC’s 2023 report stated that 34 per cent of vape users chose nicotine-only e-liquids, 28 per cent non-nicotine, and 38 per cent both.
MVCC’s report also claimed that 45 per cent vaped e-liquids with nicotine content between 10mg and 19mg, while 26 per cent used e-liquids with below 9mg nicotine content.
Another 23 per cent vaped e-liquids with nicotine content between 20 mg and 40 mg, 3 per cent (41 mg to 59 mg), and 2 per cent (above 60 mg).
Contrary to MVCC’s claims about the purported majority preference for nicotine vape with below 20mg nicotine strength, vape liquids with 3 per cent nicotine strength (30 mg) appear to be the most common in the Malaysian market, while 5 per cent nicotine strength (50 mg) vape is also available.
It is extremely rare to find e-liquids with 2 per cent (20 mg) or 1 per cent (10 mg) nicotine strength in Malaysia.
Countries that regulate vape impose nicotine content caps for e-liquids to 20 mg/ ml, such as the United Kingdom.
About Half Spend RM35 Or Less On Disposable Vapes Weekly
MVCC’s 2023 report found that about half spent RM35 or less on disposable vapes every week.
About half spent RM36 to RM70 weekly on pods and e-liquids for open or closed systems, while 40 per cent spent RM51 to RM75 per week on devices for open or closed systems.
The annual consumer spend on open or closed system e-cigarettes was estimated at RM2.56 billion, as well as RM925 million on disposable vapes.
Depending on frequency of use, disposable vape appears to be much cheaper than conventional cigarettes that retail up to RM18 for a pack of 20 sticks.
The most common flavours purchased regularly by vape users, according to MVCC’s report, are fruit (61 per cent), followed by menthol or mint (31 per cent), coffee (19 per cent), candy (16 per cent), tobacco (15 per cent), chocolate (11 per cent), beverage flavour (6 per cent), clove (5 per cent), and unflavoured (3 per cent).
More than a third of vape users (36 per cent) chose to use or switch to vape because it is cheaper than cigarettes; 45 per cent believed vape is less harmful than cigarettes and that vape helped them to quit smoking.
MVCC Opposes Vape GEG And Restrictions On Vape Sales, Marketing, And Flavours, Wants 40 mg/ml Nicotine Content Cap
MVCC opposed the proposed ban on vape or e-cigarettes for future generations under the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, otherwise known as the generational end game (GEG), citing as its “primary concern” the “potential adverse economic impact” on the sector.
“The vape industry is experiencing significant growth, with many Bumiputera entrepreneurs finding opportunities and livelihoods within this market. Implementing the GEG policy could stifle this growth, leading to job losses and affecting the livelihoods of many, especially those in the Bumiputera community,” MVCC said in its 2023 report.
MVCC also urged policymakers to differentiate vape from conventional cigarettes, claiming the harm reduction potential of vaping. The World Health Organization (WHO) previously recommended to the Malaysian government not to treat vape or e-cigarettes differently from tobacco, saying that all nicotine products should have the same regulations, as per the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The vape industry association also claimed that “a prohibitive regulation on marketing activities related to vape products will only create a loss in opportunity for smokers to switch to vaping”.
While urging the government to prohibit the sale and consumption of vape by those aged below 18, MVCC said a “balance needs to be struck” with vape products to prevent marketing targeted at minors and to enable the promotion of vape to adult smokers as a “less harmful alternative”.
Contrary to industry claims, vape manufacturers from China at a trade expo in Kuala Lumpur last May openly admitted to CodeBlue about targeting young people with trendy e-cigarettes, not existing smokers or older adults who are not inclined to vape.
The colourful packaging of vape devices, array of flavours, and the use of young adult influencers on TIkTok is also obviously designed to appeal to youths, not to mention vape companies’ sponsorship of youth and sports events.
MVCC called for similar availability of vape products in sales channels like cigarettes, omitting the fact that e-cigarettes are now actually even more widely available than conventional tobacco since the government deregulated liquid nicotine last March 31 before enacting laws or regulations on vape.
Vape vending machines are now available, even in universities. Nicotine vape is also now available on online shopping and delivery platforms like foodpanda, Shopee, and Lazada, besides convenience stores like MyNews and 7-Eleven.
Last July 31, tobacco giant British American Tobacco (BAT) launched its disposable vape product in Malaysia, available in convenience stores and petrol stations, as well as online shopping platforms.
MVCC further called for a cap on vape nicotine strength of up to 40mg per ml, double the limit in most countries that regulate e-cigarettes.
The vape industry association recommended a maximum limit of 20ml for e-liquids in retail, besides opposing prohibitions on open systems, closed systems, or disposable vapes.
MVCC opposed heavy taxation on vape products to enable smokers to switch, besides rejecting bans or restrictions on flavours on the basis that this would create an illegal market.
Since last April 1, the government has imposed an excise duty of 40 sen per ml of e-liquids containing nicotine. MVCC’s report did not comment on this specifically.
“There is also the opportunity for the industry to grow in meeting the increasing demand for disposable vape products. By implementing clear regulations and oversight mechanisms, Malaysia can effectively manage the rising popularity of disposable vapes, promote consumer safety, and maintain a responsible marketplace for these products.”
A recent CodeBlue investigation of vape stores found that retailers tended to push cheap disposable vapes to first-time vape users, including youths who do not smoke. A 6,000-puff disposable vape can retail at just RM22 (for the pre-filled vape pod alone), or RM32 (for both pod and rechargeable battery).
Local Vape Industry Can Potentially Increase Market Value To RM10 Billion
MVCC estimated that the market value of the domestic vape industry could rise to RM10 billion if it was “well-regulated”.
“The revenue from taxing vape products can run into billions which will help the government’s coffers and be used for national development initiatives,” said MVCC’s report.
The vape industry association even claimed that educating Malaysians about the benefits of vaping for smoking cessation was “contributing to public health goals”.
Malaysia’s Ministry of Health (MOH) has never adopted the harm reduction approach for vape or e-cigarettes.
However, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa exempted liquid and gel nicotine used in e-cigarettes and vaporisers as a scheduled poison from the Poisons Act 1952 last March 31 to enable taxation on e-liquids with nicotine.
This legalised the sale of nicotine vape to anyone, including minors aged below 18, as the government failed to table and pass the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill before March 31; the bill was only tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat last June 12 and referred subsequently to the Health parliamentary special select committee chaired by Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad.
The rise of Malaysia’s vape industry and people taking up e-cigarettes – as reported by MVCC – occurred even before the delisting of liquid nicotine; higher numbers will likely be reported next year.
Vape manufacturers from China have cited the deregulation of liquid nicotine as a factor in entering the Malaysian market.