By the Blouin News Business staff

Will Malaysia’s vape market go up in smoke?

by in Asia-Pacific.

Source: Michael Dorausch/flickr

Source: Michael Dorausch/flickr

Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council announced on Monday night that from now on e-cigarettes and vapes are haram — forbidden by Islam. Although no official data exists, Malaysia reportedly has the second-largest vaping market in the world after the U.S., and it is particularly popular among youth there. According to Ibrahim Mohamed, co-organizer of the Vaporizer Convention Kuala Lumpur 2015 (VapCon), there are some 1 million users nationwide, and about 10% are under 18.

Mohamed estimates that the Malaysian market had reached approximately $116 million by April, noting that e-cigarettes have only become more popular since then. Now there are over 1,000 vape shops nationwide and hundreds of local product brands.

However, Dr. Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of the National Fatwa Council, decried  the harmful health effects, bad smell, and wasteful nature of e-cigarettes and vapes. And given the growing interest of women and children in vaping, the haram declaration aims “to prevent an unhealthy culture from spreading to future generations.”

Abdul Shukor also urged all states that had yet to issue a fatwa on e-cigarettes and vapes to use the National Fatwa Council’s decision as reference.

But the council’s word is not law, and vaping is too popular for a ban to work. Although Malay-Muslims comprise an estimated 60% of vape traders, they won’t automatically follow the fatwa and give up their livelihoods. The industry has become well-established in the last six years, and a similar fatwa against cigarette smoking has not stopped Malaysians from partaking.

Furthermore, Deputy Health Minister Dr. Hilmi Yahya said on Tuesday that the fatwa will not affect the government’s existing policy on vaping (which allows only regulated sales). He also pointed out that vape sales fall under the purview of local governments. In fact, the states of Johor and Kelantan have declared their intent to enforce a ban on vape shops starting on January 1, while Kuala Lumpur has indicated that vape traders will not be granted business licenses.

In the face of uncertainty and contradictory vape policies at different levels of government, trade group Ikhlas’ president Mohd Ridzuan Abdullah told a news conference on Monday “If the federal government does not step up to address this issue, by that I mean, announcing proper guidelines on the sale [of vape products], about 10,000 traders will gather at the prime minister’s office or Bukit Aman or Parliament to protest and submit a memorandum.” Indeed, Kelantan could reverse its complete ban on the sale of vape or e-cigarette products if the Health Ministry issues guidelines for the industry, a state official said.

Rather than bans, a better option would be to raise taxes and increase enforcement of strict regulations in the industry.

Vapex 2016 – billed as the largest vape expo in Asia —  will be held in Kuala Lumpur in late February. By then hopefully the Malaysian market will be running on clarified rules.