Vapers In Singapore Are Now Criminals

As of Feb. 1, anyone vaping in Singapore is a criminal. The Southeast Asian country had already banned sales of e-cigarettes, but now it’s going after the buyers too.

Use or possession of “emerging or imitation tobacco products” is subject to fines of up to 2,000 Singapore dollars (about $1,500 U.S.). Importers or sellers of vapes, shisha, or smokeless tobacco are subject to fines as high as 10,000 Singapore dollars, and six months in jail. Repeat offenders can receive double those penalties.

The new laws are the first phase of changes to the country’s Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act. The amendments were passed by the Singapore Parliament last year.

“(Members of) the public are encouraged to discard any prohibited tobacco products that they currently have in possession,” a spokesperson for the health ministry told Channel News Asia.

Cigarettes, of course, remain legal. The age for buying cigarettes is being increased from 18 to 21 as part of the Tobacco Act revision, but that’s happening slowly over three years.

Like falling dominoes, Asian countries are restricting, taxing, or actually banning consumer access to vaping products. Just this week, Malaysian health authorities raided hundreds of vape shops and seized all stock of e-liquid containing nicotine.

Some countries, like Taiwan and India, are primarily responding to pressure from Western-led tobacco control agencies like the World Health Organization. Others, like Thailand and Indonesia, fear the loss of lucrative cigarette tax revenue. There is little recognition of the harm reduction potential of vaping for smokers.

Singapore is a wealthy and well-educated country. The island nation of 5.6 million lies between Indonesia and Malaysia. It is a financial center, and boasts the third highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. At 15 percent, its smoking rate is about the same as those of the U.S., U.K., and Australia.

The inclusion of a ban on e-cigs in the Tobacco Act was the subject of some debate in Parliament last November, but as usual in countries with strong tobacco control institutions, prohibition won the day. And, also as usual, smokers will be the ones to pay the price.

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Jim McDonald