Indonesia may join growing vaping ban as illness hits Asia

(PHOTO: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan)

By Arys Aditya

(Bloomberg) -- The world’s second largest tobacco market, Indonesia, is weighing a total ban on electronic cigarettes, joining a growing number of nations cracking down on vaping due to health concerns.

The Indonesian government is working on revising existing e-cigarette regulations, said Anung Sugihantono, the Health Ministry’s director general of disease control and prevention. “The ministry’s stance is consistent: we want to ban, not limit, vaping and e-cigarettes,” he said in a text message this week.

The move comes after a teenager in central Philippines who’s been vaping for six months and also smoking cigarettes was diagnosed with a lung injury -- likely the first known case in Asia of the mystery illness that’s killed 47 people in the U.S. and afflicted over 2,000. If Indonesia follows its Southeast Asian neighbours like the Philippines and Singapore in banning vaping, the region will be all but sealed off to e-cigarette companies.

Once thought of as a useful tool to help smokers quit, the lung illness outbreak has swiftly turned regulatory attitudes around the world against vaping. It’s now banned by around 30 countries including India and Brazil, while China, the world’s biggest smoking market, has been tightening rules around the practice.

The proposed ban will be another setback for Juul Labs Inc., which began selling its products in Indonesia earlier this year in partnership with PT Erajaya Swasembada, a distributor known for selling Apple Inc.’s iPhones. Juul’s business in the U.S. is struggling under regulatory scrutiny of whether it marketed products to teenagers.

Smokers

Tobacco smokers make up 35% of Indonesia’s 264 million population, according to the World Health Organization. The market is dominated by cigarette makers PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna, a Philip Morris International Inc. unit, PT Gudang Garam and PT Djarum.

Shares of Erajaya fell 2.3%, heading for a second weekly decline, while Hanjaya Mandala and Gudang Garam were little changed in Jakarta trading on Friday.

Indonesian Personal Vaporizer Association, a group of e-cigarettes importers, vape shop owners and vaping enthusiasts, said that the government should hold public discussions with stakeholders before imposing any restrictions.

Indonesia has not reported any cases of vaping-related illness, and the rising popularity of e-cigarettes showed that smokers see benefits in switching over from traditional cigarettes, association chief Garindra Kartasasmita said.


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