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Jakarta: E-cigarette lobby intensifies in Asia

17 November 2017:

Vapers and vaping advocates from several Asian countries gathered in Jakarta (8 – 9 November) to show harm reduction is growing in popularity. Although several countries have banned sale of e-cigarettes, this meeting predictably called on Asian governments to allow and regulate the use of electronic cigarettes.

Transnational tobacco companies own e-cigarettes and the heat-not-burn (HNB) business. To buy a seat at regulators table, these companies tout the harm reduction line. British American Tobacco (BAT) owns the biggest e-cigarette business referring to them as next generation products. However while pushing e-cigarettes on one hand, it is also increasing sales of regular cigarettes. In the Philippines, BAT said, “We are of course still focused on trying to grow our shares in combustible business. This is an additional part of our business, but I wouldn’t call that a shift.”

Philip Morris International (PMI) regards e-cigarettes and other reduced risk products as ‘The good news’. According to PMI’s document exposed in the Reuters investigations, “e-cigarette users are more willing to fight back than smokers”. And we are seeing proponents of e-cigarettes becoming more vocal in many countries now.

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug that is also poisonous. In Malaysia nicotine is classified as a Class C poison in the Poison Act. Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand have banned sale of e-cigarettes.

Several western proponents of e-cigarettes are acting as experts, lobbying government to reverse the ban. These experts have been on the seminar circuit providing their support to Asian e-cigarette proponents.

A Greek cardiologist, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, has been the main researcher cum expert for e-cigarettes who has been pushing the advantages of e-cigarettes and dispelling any doubts about their safety. He claims, “Nicotine has not killed a single smoker. Nicotine is not a carcinogen.” Nicotine may not be a carcinogen, but it is a poison, that is addictive and harms the body.

The table below identifies Asian e-cigarette proponents from the Jakarta meeting and their claims. Their views have been contrasted with the reality on the ground. 

Asian E-cigarette proponents Tobacco control reality
Prof. Achmad Syawqie Yazid, chief of YPKP Indonesia (Public Health Observer Foundation) Forum organizer – previously not involved in tobacco control but suddenly quoting WHO data. Does he want millions of poor smokers now spending their food money on cigarettes to switch to e-cigarettes? 

Jeremia, chairman of MOVI or Indonesian Vape Retailers:

“Vaping or choosing a better product [than cigarette] is a human right.”

Smokers use the same argument; the tobacco industry continues to use this same argument to undermine and roll back tobacco control.

Azrul Hafriz, Malaysian Organization of Vape Entity:

“News of enforcing a ban has triggered fears within the vaping community in Malaysia.”

MOVE has taken no responsibility for consumers who had serious injury when their vaping devices exploded.
Rajesh Sharan, a professor of Molecular Biology at North Eastern Hill University, India Participated in Global Forum on Nicotine – an industry event. He has done research on betel (Areca) nut & chemical induced carcinogenesis. Bulk of smokers in India smoke bidis and are poor. Are they supposed to switch to e-cigarettes?

Donald Low, Associate Dean Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

“Despite the compelling benefits that harm reduction products bring, there are still authorities that decide on outright ban.”

He has missed the point that governments adopt measures based on principle of “doing no harm” and not on “reduced harm”.

Andrew Da Roza, addiction psycho therapist, Singapore

“Singapore is one of the world’s leaders in tobacco control, but it has rejected tobacco harm reduction.”

He has not been involved in tobacco control efforts but is now questioning the government strategies on Singapore’s achievements.

Tom Pinlac, president of The Vapers Philippines

There are more than 2,000 e-cigarette juice manufacturers in the country, mostly individuals, which makes the market basically informal. 

The Vapers Philippines has criticised the Chair of the Civil Service Commission’s presence at the seventh session of the Conference of Parties (COP7) and for the position Philippines took on e-cigarettes.

For official WHO position on e-cigarettes (Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems) see report