PETALING JAYA - Smokers trying to quit by vaping instead are caught in the middle with cigarette prices shooting up and with nicotine likely to be banned from vapes.
They see vaping as safer because they are not inhaling cancer-causing smoke and tar but still crave the nicotine which the Health Ministry plans to ban in vape liquids.
At the other end, a pack of cigarettes that used to cost RM13.80 (S$4.51) is now RM17 after an excise hike by the Government.
Such heavy price increases could become the norm, if the anti-smoking lobby get their way.
Also, non-smokers believe that smokers could do more with the RM17, such as buy food or other essentials.
Self-employed Bino Nga, 47, who smoked a pack a day for 25 years, said vaping had helped him cut that down by half.
He is using vape to wean himself off cigarettes and plans to "stop smoking completely in three to six months".
Nga is worried that if nicotine is banned in vapes, his plan will be like ash in the wind.
"Nicotine patches and chewing gum have not helped me. Only vaping," he said.
If forced to go back to smoking, he said he would have no choice but to look for cheaper cigarettes.
"Or maybe I will roll my own," he said, since buying loose tobacco and rolling paper is cheaper than buying packs of cigarettes.
"But with vaping, I am hoping to stop smoking altogether," he added.
Copywriter Ken Goh, 26, hopes the Government is aware of the difference between e-cigarettes and vapes.
"The nicotine in e-cigarettes is a poison and dangerous," he said, whereas vaping is only flavoured vapour unless nicotine is mixed with the liquid.
"The Government's move to control e-cigarettes by law is something positive."
Goh said it was illegal to sell nicotine-laced vape liquids in Australia when he was studying there.
He used to be a smoker until the habit started giving him chest pains about one and a half years ago.
"I even suffered shortness of breath," he added.
Ever since he stopped smoking and started vaping, he does not have those symptoms anymore.
He still craved nicotine but vaping flavoured liquids helped take his mind off smoking, he said.
He supports any move to regulate the vape industry because that will mean better safety for vapers, especially when it comes to the content of the liquids.
Omar, 29, who declined to give his full name, said vaping helped him kick his nicotine habit.
He switched to vapes about two years ago and gradually decreased the amount of nicotine in the liquid until his cravings stopped.
The e-cigarette vendor said he produced 2,000 to 3,000 bottles of vape liquids a month in his home.
Some of these products contain nicotine but about 80 per cent are without.
He used food-grade flavourings and colouring to make them, he said.
If nicotine is banned from vapes, he said he would likely take his business underground because there was a demand for it by vapers trying to quit smoking.
Another vaper, who did not want to be named, said he used to spend more than RM800 on cigarettes a month while vaping only costs him about RM250.
Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin, a Universiti Malaya smoking cessation specialist, said the hike in cigarette prices had been much awaited by all involved in tobacco control.
He said they were worried that the Government had forgotten its obligations as a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
"We hope Malaysia will adopt a more systematic approach to taxation, like in New Zealand for example, where there is a consistent increase each year," he said.
Dr Amer also supports the Health Ministry's plan to start confiscating vape liquids containing nicotine.
"Nicotine should not be sold like a normal commodity. It should be treated as a poison and go through the same regulations as other poisons," he said.
Malaysian Academy of Pharmacy principal Prof Mohamad Haniki Nik Mohamed said evidence showed that increases in the prices of tobacco products were effective in cutting the demand.
He also urged co-ordinated actions by various government agencies to stem tobacco smuggling, which gets more lucrative when the prices go up.