Could New Zealand’s Vaping Model Light the Way for Malaysia’s Generation End Game?

Examining the potential of New Zealand’s vaping success in shaping Malaysia’s GEG agenda.

Fayyadh Jaafar
5 min readMar 28, 2023
Photo by Gabriel Ramos on Unsplash

Is Malaysia’s GEG policy truly prepared to take on the intricate battle against cigarette smoking?

The term "cobra effect," an anecdote from colonial India, describes a situation where well-intended solutions to a problem only serve to exacerbate it. It is fitting, then, to consider the Malaysian government’s proposed Generation End Game (GEG) bill, which seeks to ban the use, possession, and sale of cigarettes and vape products to those born after 2007. Does the GEG, as currently proposed, risk inadvertently intensifying the very issue it aims to address?

To seek the answer, let us first cast our gaze toward the distant shores of New Zealand, where a more nuanced approach to addressing the harms of smoking is taking root. This island nation has demonstrated a willingness to embrace harm reduction strategies, recognizing the potential for vaping to serve as a viable alternative for smokers who wish to quit. In this spirit, I argue that Malaysia should consider adopting a similar approach in order to effectively end cigarette smoking within the GEG framework.

The Perils of Forbidding: Looking Beyond Bans

Firstly, let us examine the current state of the Malaysian GEG bill. Is it not true that the GEG, as it stands, would jeopardize the livelihoods of legitimate, tax-paying businesses that rely on the sale of cigarettes? It is said that some 60% of cigarettes in Malaysia are sold illegally; will the implementation of GEG not merely embolden the illicit cigarette trade? These questions beg further consideration.

Embracing the Kiwi Way: The Power of Vaping Regulations

In contrast, New Zealand’s approach to vaping regulation embodies a more pragmatic path. By prohibiting the sale of vaping products to minors, limiting advertising and promotion, and requiring health warnings on packaging, the nation seeks to strike a balance between harm reduction and the protection of young people. This is the heart of the matter: we must embrace harm reduction strategies while safeguarding the well-being of the youth.

As we ponder the implications of the GEG bill, let us bear in mind the welcome reception of regulations and taxation by vape companies in Malaysia. These firms recognize the importance of proper governance and monitoring within the industry. By imposing an excise duty on vapes and e-cigarettes and ensuring stakeholder engagement in the policymaking process, we can craft a regulatory framework that addresses the concerns of both public health and the business community.

Consider the following points in favor of a harm reduction approach:

  • New Zealand’s Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Vaping) Amendment Act 2020 ensures vaping products are available for smokers seeking a less harmful alternative while preventing marketing or sales to young people.
  • Local councils, businesses, and workplaces can create their own policies around vaping, offering more flexibility in deciding where vaping is permitted.
  • The Ministry of Health in New Zealand acknowledges the potential of vaping to help people quit smoking and contribute to the country’s Smokefree 2025 goal.
  • Almost all vapers in New Zealand, including youth, are current smokers or ex-smokers, indicating that vaping serves primarily as a smoking cessation tool rather than a gateway to smoking.

So, what are we to make of the GEG bill in its present form? Should we not heed the example set by New Zealand, where a more reasoned and balanced approach to vaping regulation has taken hold? I submit that the GEG bill, in its current incarnation, risks further entrenching the illicit cigarette trade and hurting legitimate businesses. It is time for Malaysia to follow the path laid out by our Kiwi counterparts, embracing a harm reduction strategy that strikes the right balance between public health and the economic well-being of our people.

Let us not be seduced by the siren song of prohibition, which history has shown to be an ineffective and often counterproductive response to complex social issues. Instead, let us chart a course toward a more enlightened and pragmatic approach, one that acknowledges the potential for vaping to serve as a means of ending cigarette smoking in our society. By doing so, we can ensure that the GEG agenda succeeds in its laudable goal of eliminating tobacco-related harm, rather than unwittingly strengthening the cobra’s deadly grip.

As we move forward, let us engage in an honest and open dialogue with all stakeholders, including the vape industry, public health experts, and the wider Malaysian community. By working together, we can craft a policy framework that is grounded in science, data, and the realities of the situation on the ground.

So, as we stand at this critical juncture, shall we allow ourselves to be blinded by an overly simplistic view of prohibition, or shall we embrace the wisdom of harm reduction strategies, following in the footsteps of our New Zealand brethren?

Will we succumb to the "cobra effect," or will we harness the power of informed and balanced policymaking to truly bring about the end of cigarette smoking in our beloved Malaysia?

Picturing a Future Free from Smoke: The Vape Transition

Imagine, if you will, a future Malaysia where the Generation End Game has been successfully implemented, not through rigid and uncompromising prohibition but through a more enlightened and compassionate approach, one that acknowledges the complexities and nuances of human behavior and addiction. In Malaysia, smokers are offered a viable and less harmful alternative to cigarettes, allowing them to gradually wean themselves off their deadly habit without resorting to the black market or suffering unbearable withdrawal.

Imagine a society where young people, now protected from the allure of both cigarettes and illicit vaping products, grow up free from the clutches of tobacco addiction. Our public spaces, once clouded by the haze of cigarette smoke, are now filled with clean air and vibrant conversation as Malaysians from all walks of life come together to celebrate their collective triumph over tobacco.

This seemingly utopian vision may seem like a distant dream, but it is within our grasp if we choose to learn from the experiences of other nations, such as New Zealand, and embrace the potential of harm reduction strategies. Instead of rushing headlong into a policy that may inadvertently cause more harm than good, we must carefully consider the broader implications of our actions, lest we unwittingly unleash the cobra effect upon our unsuspecting populace.

I invite you to ponder this thought experiment:

What kind of Malaysia do you envision for your children, your grandchildren, and the generations to come? Will it be a nation shackled by the unintended consequences of well-intentioned but ultimately misguided policies, or one that embraces the wisdom of evidence-based approaches, guiding its citizens towards a healthier, smoke-free future?

The choice is ours to make.



Fayyadh Jaafar

Former business journalist. I write other things here too, you know.