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April 4, 2023
4 min to read

Malaysia Will Legalize and Tax Nicotine Vapes

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Jim McDonald

The Malaysian health minister announced last Friday the country would exempt nicotine used in e-liquid from the country’s Poisons Act. The decision opened the doors for what will be a large legal nicotine vaping market.

The finance ministry had already included a tax on vaping products in its 2023 budget, and published it in the country’s official gazette on March 29. The tax became effective April 1, and includes an excise of 0.40 Malaysian ringgits (RM)—about 9 cents U.S.—per milliliter on nicotine-containing e-liquid. That is the same tax rate currently in place for zero-nicotine e-liquid.

The decision to remove nicotine from the official Poisons List was controversial, because it immediately followed a meeting of the Poisons Board, which reportedly recommended against allowing consumer nicotine sales. Nicotine was previously sold only by prescription, and then only for medical purposes. The Poisons Board—and tobacco control activists—wanted to maintain the ban on consumer nicotine products.

The administration's decision was formalized in a March 30 gazette notice that described an amendment to the Poisons Act allowing nicotine used in "preparation of a kind used for smoking through the electronic cigarette and electric vaporising device, in the form of liquid or gel," according to the New Straits Times. The order was personally approved by Health Minister Zaliha Mustafa.

Opponents warn of huge public health ``crisis``

Despite the new tax and nicotine rules, there is still no law governing regulation of vaping products, advertising, or the market. Because Malaysia’s existing tobacco control law doesn’t include e-cigarettes, anti-vaping groups say that vaping is now completely unregulated, and even sales to children is possible. "A child can now vape without any legal repercussions because there's no laws against this,” Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control chairman M. Murallitharan told the Times.

The argument is somewhat disingenuous, since Malaysia already has a large, unregulated vaping market, and huge quantities of illegal nicotine-containing vaping products are already being sold—in addition to zero-nicotine products sold legally in Malaysian vape shops. The new laws will simply allow nicotine-containing vapes to move from the black market back into vape shops, where they can be sold to adults without fear of occasional police raids.

"This decision is likely to mark the beginning of one of the biggest public health crises in Malaysia: a dramatic increase in young people and children who are addicted to nicotine, through vape,” Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib told Malaysia Now. "We are already going through a non-communicable diseases crisis with millions of people living with diabetes, cancer, hypertension and obesity. This will be the next one."


Regulations to come soon

The 2022 Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill, which was put on hold last year, would have modified the country’s existing rules to regulate both tobacco and vaping products. The bill also included a divisive “generation endgame” provision that would make the sale of consumer nicotine products illegal for anyone born after 2005. The Malaysian generation endgame law would have included vaping products, unlike a similar New Zealand law passed last year.

Health Minister Zaliha Mustafa announced April 1 that the government will propose a similar bill as early as May to regulate nicotine use, according to the Malay Mail. She said the new bill would also include the generation endgame scheme. It is unclear how the new rules and eventual laws will affect Malaysian states that have banned sales of all vaping products (there are at least five).

Change is Malaysia has come in fits and starts. The previous Malaysian administration announced in late 2021 that it intended to regulate and tax vaping products, and went as far as proposing a detailed tax plan. The tax plan was dropped soon after, and the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill, which would have regulated vaping, was postponed.

Malaysia is now on track to join a handful of other Asian countries with legal, regulated vaping markets—notably China and the Philippines. Outright vape bans are more common, especially in Southeast Asia.

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Jim McDonald

Vaping since: 12 years

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Favorite flavors: RY4-style tobaccos, fruits

Expertise in: Political and legal challenges, tobacco control haters, moral panics

Jim McDonald

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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