Forced to shutter, Kelantan, Johor vape sellers in desperate search for lifelines

Rizani (right) said Mevta plans to organise an event that would enable vape traders suffering losses to sell their remaining products outside of states that have banned the business. — Picture by Yuosf Mat Isa
Rizani (right) said Mevta plans to organise an event that would enable vape traders suffering losses to sell their remaining products outside of states that have banned the business. — Picture by Yuosf Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 20 — The looming statewide ban on the vape trade in Johor will set Mohd Nizam Zalman back at least RM40,000 if he does not find a way to offload his goods in time.

The 25-year-old was only in business for seven months when the Johor Sultan called for the closure of all vape stores in the state by January 1 next year, a decree the state government has resolved to enforce.

Caught in a bind, Mohd Nizam is now thinking about starting an ice cream cafe but must first rid himself of his vape stock in order to raise enough capital for the new venture.

To do this, he hopes to take his products across the Johor border to other states that have yet to ban vape outlets.

But the clock is ticking for the young owner of Artisan Vape in Johor Bahru.

“This is very troubling,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted. “And we were not given enough time to clear our stock.”

“I wish it could go back to the way it was. Implement a taxation system instead, I don’t mind,” he said.

Mohd Nizam said he has only raised 20 per cent of the needed capital for his ice cream cafe business as his estimated losses from his vape venture have been weighing down on his finances.

Like Mohd Nizam, scores of other young entrepreneurs across Johor and Kelantan — the two states so far that have announced bans on the vape trade — are faced with the same predicament.

While many have resorted to going fully digital or giving hefty discounts to get rid of their goods, some have decided to throw in the towel completely.

One such business owner is 26-year-old Muhammad Arif Junaidden from Wakaf Bharu in Kelantan.

According to the youth, Arif Vape House will see complete closure when the new year comes around, costing him at least RM30,000 in losses.

“I have just restocked after the shop was robbed last month, and I had already lost thousands then. There is no way I am going to sell it all in time,” he said.

Unlike in Johor, where the ban on vape outlets came with a one-month grace period, the Kelantan state government only finalised its decision on Wednesday, leaving store owners in Kelantan only 14 days to vacate their premises.

“I’m giving up on this but I don’t know what I’m going to do next, with only two weeks to decide,” Muhammad Arif added.

A Johor Bahru-based vape store owner who only wanted to go by the name Nasran said his four-month-old business would end for good and that he would try to get rid of remaining stock come January through online sales.

“If we don’t try selling it online, I’m going to lose more than RM60,000. The one month given is definitely not enough for me to clear my stock,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

“I believe in going by the law, so I will have to try whatever remaining avenues there are to cut my losses.”

Sellers who started their trade online before moving on to brick and mortar establishments are finding the predicament more tolerable, however, with some even saying that the ban may not affect their businesses.

Trader Mat Zin, who currently operates from his shop in Johor Bahru and through the Internet, said he will close his outlet by next week and resume his online business.

"I started selling vape products through the Internet first and then I decided to open a shop.

"Since the Sultan has called for the ban, I will accept it and continue selling my products online as I will not lose much given that most of my customers are online-based.

"In fact, I won't lose much as I would probably break even from January onwards because I won't be paying RM3,000 a month for rental, " he said.

Another trader from Johor Bahru who chose to remain anonymous similarly said the vape ban would not affect his business.

"I don't have many walk-in customers anyway. I was already thinking of shutting down my store and continue selling vape products online because rental was beginning to take a toll on me," he said, adding that he sells his products nationwide through the Internet.

Taking note of the struggles faced by vape sellers in Johor and Kelantan due to the looming ban, Malaysian E-Vaporisers and Tobacco Alternative Association (Mevta) said it may step in to help these businesses where possible.

Without offering details, Mevta president Rizani Zakaria said the group plans to organise an event that would enable vape traders suffering losses to sell their remaining products outside of states that have banned the business.

“They have invested a lot of money. A one month timeframe is impossible for them to clear their stock.

“We are thinking of organising an event in two weeks, maybe somewhere in Malacca or perhaps Seremban,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.

Rizani said the event was initially suggested to Johor-based stores but with the newly-announced ban in Kelantan, the association may organise a separate function.

“The details are still being discussed, and we will announce it later. But we would like to see how the situation develops in Kelantan,” he said.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said last month that the government planned to introduce legislation to regulate vaping, particularly on vape fluids with nicotine content.

At present, nicotine is scheduled poisons under the Poisons Act 1952, which only exempts cigarettes and tobacco products, with nicotine in fluid form only sold in controlled quantities at licensed pharmacies and registered medical practitioners.

The Kelantan ban is the second in the country, after Johor announced a similar prohibition on the sale of vape items in the state, which will also start January 1.

The Selangor government is now said to be considering the possibility of imposing a ban but Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azmin Ali said the state will discuss the matter with all relevant stakeholders first before making any decision.

The Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) said Friday it will not issue any business licenses to traders looking to sell vape products.

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