At Malaysian e-cigarette outlet Vape Empire, customers kick back and puff out thick, aromatic clouds of vapour in funky flavours like Horny Mango and Creamy Suckerz’ Banana Anna.”Vaping” is soaring in popularity in Malaysia, the largest e-cigarette market in the Asia-Pacific region, but authorities are threatening to ban the habit for health reasons — a move that has sparked anger from growing legions of aficionados.
Backing a ban, Malaysian religious leaders this month declared a fatwa on the “un-Islamic” habit, but it remains to be seen whether the decree will dampen enthusiasm. “The business is growing very fast because there are many people trying to convert from tobacco smoking to vaping,” Vape Empire’s co-founder Muhammad Sharifuddin Esa said, adding that his business has expanded to 57 locations since it opened just two years ago.
The pastime has proved a particular hit in the moderate, Muslim-majority nation, where other vices such as alcohol and drugs are especially frowned upon. Now several Malaysian states say they may impose a ban from January 1 and have threatened to stop issuing new merchants’ licences — a potential blow to a sector worth an estimated 2.8 billion ringgit ($650 million) last year, according to reports.
The industry, which is expected to grow by more than 13 percent year-on-year to 2025, is currently unregulated, and many say forbidding e-cigarettes — already outlawed in Thailand and Singapore for health reasons — is a big mistake.