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November 11th, 2015:

Rumored tobacco plan criticized

The nation’s premier anti-smoking lobby, the John Tung Foundation, yesterday said that it is against a rumored Ministry of Health and Welfare policy to increase a surcharge on tobacco products.

The Chinese-language China Times reported that the ministry is mulling a proposal to increase the Health and Welfare Surcharge on Tobacco Products from NT$20 to NT$40 because the Executive Yuan adjusted its distribution of the funds, with the National Health Insurance (NHI) to have NT$6 billion to NT$7 billion (US$182.6 million to US$213.1 million) cut from its budget annually.

The report said the NHI estimated that medical expenses for treating diseases caused by smoking accounts for between 6 and 15 percent of the nation’s total medical expense — about NT$50 billion per year, while the Health Promotion Administration (HPA) estimated an increase in income from NT$30 billion to NT$54 billion if the surcharge is doubled, with smoking rates predicted to drop.

Lin Ching-li (林清麗), head of the foundation’s tobacco control division, said the foundation is against the policy because there is no mechanism to monitor how the ministry allocates the funds it collects.

“Cigarette prices and tax revenue is falling behind [that in other nations], because the tobacco tax has not been adjusted in 28 years,” Lin said.

“The average price of cigarettes should be immediately increased to NT$75 per pack,” Lin said, adding that the price of cigarettes is relatively cheap when compared with other countries.

The foundation believes that an increase in the tobacco tax, rather than the surcharge, would be a better way to effectively discourage smoking, she added.

Separately, former ministers of the department of health Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) and Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) said if the surcharge is to be increased, the funds should not be included in the tax system, but used to protect public health.

Later yesterday, HPA Deputy Director-General Yu Li-hui (游麗惠) said that while a proposal to amend laws regarding tobacco were sent to the Legislative Yuan in May, “actually there is no agenda to amend any tobacco-related law scheduled for discussion in the current legislative session.”

Banned e-smoking devices sold online

Users’ identity not needed to buy vaporisers, e-liquids from sites like Carousell, Gumtree

SINGAPORE – Electronic smoking devices including e-cigarettes are banned in Singapore, but sellers have found a way around the law by hawking them in cyberspace.

Young people, including teens below 18, are finding it easier to find such battery-run devices, which heat up a chemical, called an e-liquid, and turn it into vapour.

Also called “vaping” devices – as vapours are inhaled – these vaporisers and e-liquids can be obtained from online marketplaces like Carousell, Gumtree and Qoo10, as well as social media like Instagram and online forums here.

On Carousell, there are more than 30 such posts daily, with most selling e-liquids under vague search terms like “juice”. E-liquid refills, sold for about $13 for a 10ml bottle and $25 for a 30ml bottle, come in flavours including bandung, root beer float and caramel macchiato, and may be laced with nicotine.

Vaping starter sets are also sold on Carousell for about $170 each.

After a deal is made, the listing would be deleted immediately.

Sellers on Carousell said they rely on the platform for fast deals, and it does not require users to reveal their identity. Their customers range from those in their mid-teens to people in their 50s.

One seller who did not give his name started selling vaporisers a year ago, but moved on to e-liquids “to help regulars continue their vaping lifestyle”.

He has been “vape smoking” for the past three years and said the activity is growing in popularity here.

According to the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), there were more than 15,000 cases involving people bringing vaporisers, which include electronic cigarettes, cigars and pipes, into Singapore illegally between 2012 and September this year. In the same period, 39 peddlers were caught for selling vaporisers here.

HSA said the vaporisers were found in parcels mostly ordered online, and on people entering Singapore. The Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act here prohibits the import, distribution, sale or offer for sale of any item designed to resemble a tobacco product, including vaporisers.

Buying e-cigarettes from overseas websites or bringing them into the country in hand luggage is also considered importing.

Offenders may be fined up to $5,000 for the first offence, and up to $10,000 subsequently.

Veteran lawyer Amolat Singh said the owners and operators of the online sites can be charged with “aiding and abetting” the offences under the Tobacco Act.

“In a sense, it is no different from allowing someone to sell something illegal in one corner of one’s shop,” he said.

The online marketplaces said they are monitoring the situation.

Gumtree told The Straits Times that sellers who put up prohibited items for sale will be warned.

Those who continue to flout the rules will be banned and blocked.

“Sellers often try to find ways to work around our defences. We… will continue to update our filters to better clean our site,” said a Gumtree spokesman.


Carousell said it works very closely with regulatory and enforcement agencies to identify prohibited products.

It also encourages users to flag products and sellers who do not abide by its guidelines.

There is a sizeable group of vaporiser users here, going by an online e-cigarette forum for people in Singapore, which has more than 200,000 registered members.

Users say the lack of a foul smell is a draw.

“My fingers no longer stink and I can confidently hold my loved ones,” said a 28-year-old man.

Said the seller on Carousell of his customers: “Vaping helps smokers transit away from smoking traditional cigarettes, and all of my regulars have no intentions of reverting to smoking.”

But Dr Wong Seng Weng, medical director of The Cancer Centre, said e-cigarette users are exposed to nicotine, which is addictive, as well as heated and aerosolised propylene glycol and glycerol, which may turn into carcinogens.

In a joint statement, HSA and the Health Promotion Board advise the public “against using vaporisers to quit smoking or reduce their nicotine addiction”.

They cited a report by the World Health Organisation last year that said vaporisers can contain cancer-causing agents and toxicants and, in some cases, as much as those in conventional cigarettes.

They advised quitters to join the iQuit club at