When Vaping in Asia Can Land You in Jail

Oct 2, 2019 | 360, AA, Asia, China, CULTURE, GOV, Hong Kong, Malaysia, NEWS, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand

Vaping Dark Fog © Zachary DeBottis

What is the fate of e-cigarettes in the bulwark of Asia, where countries are planning for blanket bans?

After nearly two decades of seemingly unbeatable success, e-cigarettes are now under fire for being the direct cause of death of over a dozen individuals in the United States.

The US CDC is now in the process of drawing up guidelines for vape users, including its latest bulletin on vaping products with THC. THC is the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana, and while conclusive data has yet to emerge between THC-laden vape pens and vaping-related lung injury, the US CDC is no longer taking any chances.  

The number of lung injuries secondary to the use of vapes and e-cigarettes is also on the rise, with the tally exceeding 800 in the US alone. The intense demand for nicotine delivery systems as a response to the dangers of tobacco smoke has spawned a billion-dollar industry spanning diverse markets from the Middle East to Asia. 

Plucking Tea at Ceylon | Museum of Photography Unknown

U.S Gov. Eric Holcomb Speaking @ Fishers High School to Reduce Vaping

What is Vaping?

The term “vape” is a blanket term used to describe any device that delivers nicotine through vaporization. According to California-based e-cigarette retailer Ruthless Vapor, vapes have had roughly four ‘eras.’ These four eras cover years 2003 to the mid-2010s. 2003 saw the emergence of cig-a-like devices, which are small vaporizers designed to mimic the look and feel of regular, combustible cigarettes.

Cig-a-likes are still in use today. The most common variant of vapes, the vape pen, began appearing in global markets in the mid-2000s. Vape pens are lightweight, slim, and have longer battery life compared to cig-a-likes. Vape pens have batteries that are slightly larger than AA batteries.

“Mods,” which are much larger and heftier than vape pens, began enjoying popularity in the early 2010s because they provided better opportunities for customization. The battery life of the vaporizer jumped several times with the introduction of mods in the market. And finally, around 2015, mods evolved to become pod mods, which are essentially slimmer and easier to carry mods. With less heft, these devices became an easy choice for folks who don’t want to carry around heavier, older mods. 

Vaping Laws Around Asia

In Asia, where the majority of vapes and e-cigarettes are being manufactured, local legislations are visibly shaken by the recent vape-related deaths in the US. The following countries now have strict bans that regulate the use and sale of vapes and e-cigarettes: Cambodia, India (some parts), Philippines, and Vietnam.

Vaping in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia

Since 2014, has had one of the strictest sets of regulatory mechanisms for the personal consumption of vapes. If you are arrested possessing vape pens or related gear, you can end up being imprisoned for ten years, or be made to pay a whopping fine of $945.

To clarify, Thai laws on vaping has many grey areas, and it appears that tourists can purchase and use vapes in private, but not in public. What is explicitly prohibited is sale of all vape-related gear.

To be safe, if you are traveling to Thailand, don’t bring your vape gear at all. However, you will see some stores selling vape gear in tourist traps around the country, but this doesn’t make vaping legal.

Grey areas seem to be common for countries that generate significant revenue from tourism. Indonesia is another prime example that follows the path of Thailand. On the whole, vaping is prohibited throughout the country but in tourist hotspot Bali, there are vape cafes that openly operate, catering to the public’s demand for e-juices and vape gear.

Malaysia has a public ban on vaping, but you can still purchase vapes around the country. However, the public is prohibited from openly using vapes in public spaces such as parks and gasoline stations. There is an outright ban on the sale and use of vapes in the following states: Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri, Terengganu, and Sembilan. 

Philippines: A Juul Launchpad? 

In nearby Philippines, legislators are eyeing excise taxes on vape juices, as well as more stringent rules on vaping. The Department of Health in the country wishes to protect people who do not smoke or do not wish to inhale the vapor coming from these devices.

One well-known city in the National Capital Region, Quezon City, has laid down an outright ban on the use of vape pens and e-cigarettes in public spaces. Despite the growing concerns over e-cigarettes and their potential health consequences, embattled San Francisco-based e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs, Inc., has begun expanding its footprint in Asia.

Last June, the company partnered with a subsidiary of JG Summit Holdings in the Philippines to formally begin its expansion into the Asia Pacific region. In a statement in BusinessWorld, Juul stated that the entry to the Asia Pacific market is “the next step in the company’s mission to help improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by offering a viable alternative to combustible cigarettes.”

Juul has been under fire in recent months due to reports of users suffering from severe conditions, like collapsed lungs. The term “vaping-related lung disease” has now become commonplace in media, and Juul is almost always spoken in the same breath as vaping-related health conditions.

E-Cigarettes in Singapore, Hong Kong and China

Singapore, which is well-known for its strict laws on tobacco, has banned the sale and use of vaporizers for any kind of use. Singapore does not mess around with its anti-vaping and anti-tobacco laws.

If you are caught with contraband, you can be made to pay a mind-bending fine of $2,000. You also cannot order vapes from outside Singapore and have it shipped to any residence inside Singapore. That would be considered postal importation of illegal contraband, and this stature has been in place since August 1, 2016. 

What about Hong Kong? Hong Kong prides itself in having a largely liberal culture thanks to the colonial history of this administrative region, but just this year, the Hong Kong government announced that it intends to enforce a blanket ban on the importation, sale, and use of all kinds of vapes, including “heat not burn” devices. “Heat not burn” devices, unlike vape pens and hookah pens, require actual tobacco in order to work.

The heat releases nicotine-laced vapors that are then inhaled by the user. Like other parts of the world, Hong Kong is home to many smokers or former smokers who are struggling to free themselves from the tobacco habit. Many believe that nicotine delivery systems like vape pens are the key to transitioning away from what is perceived as the great evil, which was smoking tobacco on a regular basis.

China, which is the site of many manufacturing firms that produce vape gear, is also currently mulling stricter regulations for the personal use of vape products. The increased concern comes from the rising trend of youngsters who are finding it fashionable and acceptable to vape.

What started out as a potential tool for tobacco cessation has become an easy choice for youngsters who want to get into the habit. Last May, the government of China has already published a regulation that tackles the standards of manufacturing e-cigarettes and vape pens. The document, which is in Chinese, lists down acceptable ingredients, among other information.