About 25% of Malaysia’s population smokes, and this rate can be partly attributed to the lack of harm reduction/smoking cessation initiatives by local lawmakers. The new smoking law will require smokers to light up at least three metres away from open-air eateries, and gives authorities the power to fine smokers up to 10,000 ringgit (US$2,400), if they violate these regulations.

Malaysia’s state policymakers think that legislating cigarettes and e-cigarettes differently may be too complicated.

Meanwhile, according to an article on South China Post, when state policymakers were confronted about e-cigarettes, they agreed that it would be best to implement a blanket ban, as they think that legislating cigarettes and e-cigarettes differently may be too complicated.

State executive Councillor Afif Bahardin, says the move is for the greater good. “This is more about changing the attitude of society and their tolerance to smoking,” Bahardin says, adding that allowing e-cigarettes would not eradicate the tolerance towards smoking. “Less harmful is still harmful”, he said.

Using the safer alternatives for harm reduction

In contrast, shadow finance minister and former minister of youth and sports Khairy Jamaluddin, believes in the use of e-cigarettes as harm reduction tools. “I’m more for harm reduction, which means you try to minimise the negative effects. It’s the idea that certain addictions can be re-routed towards less-harmful, non-lethal behaviour,” Jamaluddin says.

Meanwhile, when last October, deputy minister Dr. Lee Boon Chye, from the Health Ministry of Malaysia had announced the smoking ban, he had said that this ban would be extended to nicotine containing e-cigarettes, and that specific regulations were going to be implemented on the devices.

“Only vape which contains nicotine is considered illegal, but as for whether vaping of non-nicotine products is an offence or not, what I can tell is that, at the moment, there is no law against that,” said the Deputy Health Minister at the time. “Our focus now is to legislate tobacco control and smoking activities. When that legislation is approved, then there may be a way to regulate the vaping activities as well.”

Vaping research

Meanwhile despite being in favour of harm reduction, Jamaluddin claims that the research on e-cigarettes has been inconsistent.  “Most of the studies on alternatives to cigarettes have been either very short term or the participants were not randomly assigned to different methods to quit smoking. We need to conduct more research into these alternatives,” he says.

“In any case, our approach must utilise many solutions. All options need to be readily available – from screening and counselling to comprehensive follow-ups.”

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In-house journalist covering international vaping news.