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Vape Shops Selling E-cigarettes to Non-Smoking Adolescents
In a recent Al Jazeera documentary titled "Flavoured Toxins: The Rise of Vaping," shocking evidence has come to light regarding the sale of e-cigarettes to underage individuals in Southeast Asia. The documentary, aired as part of the international broadcasting network's 101 East programme, exposes the concerning practices of some vape shops in Kuala Lumpur. Undercover footage reveals the ease with which non-smoking adolescents can purchase vaping devices without any age verification. This alarming revelation raises serious concerns about the lack of regulations and enforcement in the Malaysian vape industry.
Uncovering the Sales to Minors
The documentary employs an undercover operation in which a young female buyer, visually resembling a teenager, visits six vape shops in Kuala Lumpur. Rigged with a hidden camera and microphone, she attempts to purchase vaping products while explicitly stating that she is not a smoker and is trying vaping for the first time. Shockingly, despite being informed of her non-smoker status, the vape shop employees still sell her e-cigarettes without any verification of her age.
One particularly concerning incident involves the sale of a 10,000-puff vape device to the undercover buyer for only RM36. These high-capacity devices are typically intended for regular vapers who consume larger amounts of vapor. The seller's nonchalant recommendation of the product, emphasizing its high puff count, demonstrates a complete disregard for the potential health risks associated with underage vaping.
The Vaping Trend in Southeast Asia
Al Jazeera's documentary, published just three days ago, sheds light on the growing vaping trend in Southeast Asia, with a specific focus on Malaysia and Indonesia. Mohammad Nazeem Talib, the president of the E-Vaporizers and Tobacco Alternative Association Malaysia (MEVTA), acknowledges the presence of clear warnings on e-cigarette products and in vape shops, aimed at deterring minors from using these products. However, the effectiveness of these measures remains questionable.
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The Pledge for Self-Regulation
Following a stakeholder meeting with Deputy Health Minister Lukanisman Awang Sauni last April, Malaysian vape industry players made a commitment to "self-regulate" their businesses. Unfortunately, the extent to which this pledge has been honored remains unclear. Local vape shops continue to sell e-cigarettes with nicotine content reaching up to five percent, well above the two percent cap enforced in countries with stricter regulations. Online platforms even offer vape products containing up to 12 percent nicotine, as reported by CodeBlue.
The Legal Void and Failed Legislation
The Malaysian government's decision to remove liquid and gel nicotine from the Poisons Act 1952 effectively legalized the sale of nicotine vape products to anyone in the country, including minors below the age of 18. The absence of specific regulations on e-cigarettes has created a concerning legal void that enables these sales to underage individuals. Furthermore, the government's recent failure to pass the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 in Parliament has further exacerbated the situation.
Former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who previously proposed the initial tobacco bill, expressed regret over the lack of enforcement against vape sales. He highlighted the absence of laws regulating vaping and the consequent disregard for age restrictions, leading to the current situation described as the "Wild West" of vaping in Malaysia.
Targeting Vulnerable Youth
Vape shops across the Klang Valley have been accused, as reported by CodeBlue, of specifically targeting youth despite displaying "18-year-old and above only" signs. These signs, often inconspicuously placed, fail to effectively communicate the age restrictions to customers. Moreover, vape shop employees often downplay the addictive nature of e-cigarettes and falsely claim that their products are harmless compared to traditional cigarettes.
In contrast, Chinese e-cigarette manufacturers admitted to actively targeting youths as young as 18, using cool and fashionable designs to appeal to this age group. This deliberate strategy aims to entice young individuals who have not yet transitioned from conventional cigarettes to vaping. Some manufacturers have even gone as far as designing devices that resemble toys, keychains, or milk cartons adorned with cute symbols to attract children.
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