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LETTER | Regulate and tax vaping for government income

LETTER | A few things have happened recently that the government has finally made clear – firstly is the need for a RM45 billion Supplementary Bill to cover the additional government spending during the movement control Order (MCO).

The second was the announcement that the Malaysian government is looking for ways to generate revenue to make up for the loss of income. Both of these means that the government needs to find revenue that was previously untapped and left without oversight.

And what better opportunity than to regulate and tax vaping and e-cigarettes, which has yet again been left in a grey area since 2016.

Countries such as Korea and Indonesia have already taxed vaping, though both quite excessive in pushing for harm reduction. Although it would be fair to say that both have quite a vested interest in keeping cigarettes as the main choice for their populations.

Meanwhile, New Zealand has approved to regulate vaping before announcing their election, and the Philippines has approved to regulate vaping last week, regardless of what their president has said in the past.

Thus, Malaysia is primed to do both, to cope with the need for a new revenue stream and also to shift the population away from traditional combustible tobacco while maintaining and strengthening the regulations on devices, liquids and even the tobacco sticks.

The first advantage would be to allow the Ministry of Health (MOH) to take action against those advertising or packaging their products specifically targeting youth. New Zealand’s regulations can be an example of this, in which their ministry has the ability to police the advertising and packaging of each and every e-cigarette and vaping product.

Though, I’m not sure how our Health Ministry would react to getting revenue from advertisements from vaping – probably the same way they feel about advertisements on alcohol?

By doing this, companies that clearly target youths can be banned and made to change their products to suit the above-18 category they should be catering for.

At the same time, it would also allow the ministry to regulate the content of these products – this would be beneficial to society at large, especially to avoid nicotine poisoning, flavours obviously targeting the youth market, and even harmful additives such as THC which triggered the Evali scare early last year.

More importantly, having such regulation would also allow the Malaysian vaping industry to finally not be in a limbo of being between being raided and winning awards and accolades for their products in overseas markets.

But most urgent of all, the discussion on legalising and taxing vape has been ongoing for three years with papers and bills already written and primed for release even before the Sheraton Move. Thus, it isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel when you have had your stakeholder engagements and have to just get it through Parliament with a simple majority.

At the same time, maintaining the current regulations of treating vaping like cigarettes where you have to walk three meters away for a puff, barring it from public areas and even limiting the sale to those over the age of 18 are all acceptable conditions for everyone.

This is, of course, just one of many things the government could introduce in order to bolster its revenue from the general public and industry. Others such as the reintroduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), increasing tobacco duties, introducing an estate tax, and even looking at automation of traffic laws, emission laws and environmental laws would, in the end, generate enough income for the government provided that there are no leakages.

And that’s the biggest problem right there – leakages. When one minister or MP suddenly gets off on a traffic fine or even an MCO compound and flouts it to the rest of the country, it all falls apart. Thus, taxation, just like any other law, should be equally applied to everyone.

Anything less, any leakages and observed bias in the system, and it will all be seen as nothing more than theatre.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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