The Globe as you know it is changing.
Coming June 2019

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To understand more about why you are so important to our member-supported initiative, we encourage you to read the following from our managing editor ~ Read more

The Globe as you know it is changing.

Since 2007, Southeast Asia Globe has been a space for some of the region’s best writers and photographers to take our readers behind the headlines into the stories that shape people’s lives. Every month, you could expect to pick up our latest print edition and find high-quality journalism, analysis and artwork waiting on every page. And since 2007, we’ve fought to uphold our promise of quality and independence to you, our readers.

But, like we said, the world is changing. Print publications just aren’t reaching the audiences they need to fulfil their promise of informing, educating and entertaining the public. Advertisers continue to invest in digital platforms while printing costs creep ever higher. Print may not be dead, but it’s fighting for its life. And we’re tired of waiting by a sickbed for its condition to improve. We want to be present at the birth of something new.

That’s why Southeast Asia Globe is relaunching as a member-driven platform featuring daily long-form features combining world-class journalism with enthralling art design and data-centered tech. Through our core pillars – Power, Money, Life and Earth – we are focusing in on the central issues that our readers have always engaged with most, with the same in-depth coverage of politics, business, social affairs and the environment that you’ve come to expect since 2007.

But leaving print behind us doesn’t just save our backs from lugging stacks of magazines across Southeast Asia. It opens up a global readership who don’t just want to read the news, but have a say in the stories that we tell and the way that we tell them. We’re not asking you to take out another magazine subscription – our stories are open to all. What we’re offering our members is a space where they can pitch and vote on the stories that they think deserve to be told. We want to inspire an engaged and active community of members who vote for, comment on and contribute to the stories that matter most to them. We want to work with our members to curate the way they engage with the news – not just as readers, but as an active extension of our editorial team.

That’s how we’re changing to bring you great stories. Here’s how we’re not.

We’re independent. Always have been, always will be. We’re not owned by any corporation or aligned with any state. We choose the stories that we tell, and the way that we tell them.

We’re creative. We’re not interested in churning out breaking news stories on the hour, every hour. We believe that the best stories are the ones that come alive on the page, digging deeper into the issues that shape Southeast Asia – and bringing you along for the ride. From our dedicated designers to our new software development team, our commitment is to constantly challenge ourselves to find new ways of reaching out to our readers.

We’re open. Challenging governments, NGOs and businesses to be transparent with the public means nothing if we keep our own readers in the dark. That’s why we will be completely open about why we tell the stories that we tell – and how we pay for them. Work with us to build something that endures where many media fail, and decide with us exactly where that money is going.

Above all, we’re optimistic. And yeah, we know what you’re thinking. Faced with impending climate collapse, the rise of right-wing authoritarian governments across the world, widening wealth and income inequality and deepening divisions rooted in race or gender or creed, it’s hard not to open the papers and feel the weight of the world pressing down. But we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe that when people work together, they can make their little corner of the world a more just, open and equal place.

And that’s why we can’t do this without you. We believe that across the globe is a community of people who care deeply about social justice, environmental action and press freedom – and who will join in to help make those ideals a reality. We’re not just holding our hand out – we need your voice to play a vital role in building Southeast Asia Globe into a leading space for progressive causes in the region. Tell us what stories the mainstream media is missing. Share with us the causes that matter most to you, and how we can champion those causes not just across Southeast Asia, but the world.

Our vision is clear. By 2025, we want to be recognised for building a great space for outstanding journalists from across the region to explore new ways of telling Southeast Asia’s most vital stories. Let’s bring together a community of engaged and loyal members who want to help reshape the media rather than just read it. And we want to reach a point where our readers, not advertisers, are the ones working to support our shared vision of an inclusive media.

We can’t do this without you. Let’s get together and build something that we all believe in.

If you’re interested in joining us, sign up to our newsletter, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. And watch this space.

New laws could spell end of Malaysia as “vaping wonderland”

By: David Hutt - Posted on: July 12, 2016 | Culture & Life

Malaysia has long been a bastion of vaping in Southeast Asia. But government regulation of the industry might soon curtail the country’s e-cigarette boom

Standing in front of a sign that reads “we don’t blow smoke”, Alex let a mushroom cloud rush from his mouth. The white shroud quickly faded in the poky, cluttered shop – named Vapempire – located on one of the upper storeys of Kuala Lumpur’s Berjaya Times Square mall.

“It’s cheesecake flavour,” said the 27-year-old store employee, as he handed over a chunky vapouriser to sample the gaseous amuse-bouche and then proceeded to scramble through dozens of bottles to find concoctions he made himself. One imbued the potency and taste of whiskey with the flavours of
a US tobacco brand. Others contained no nicotine at all, just redolent aromas.

Up in smoke: a shop assistant at Vapempire in Kuala Lumpur demonstrates some of the store’s vapouriser liquids. Photo: Darshin Chelliah for SEA Globe

Underneath a glass counter sat a hoard of devices and liquid-filled bottles for vaping. Compared to cigarettes, vapourisers – more commonly known as e-cigarettes – are generally believed to contain fewer carcinogenic chemicals and are less harmful, although this is hotly debated, particularly due to a limited numbers of studies and scientific complexity, which has led to many sensationalist media headlines.

Following the release of a major report in the US in November, a headline in the Telegraph stated: “E-cigarettes are no safer than smoking tobacco”. Replying in the Guardian days later, the deputy director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Linda Bauld, insisted that there is “still no evidence [that] e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking”.

Still, as scientists continue to debate the health implications of e-cigarettes, many vaping advocates in Malaysia maintain that, as Alex put it: “Vaping has helped me quit smoking cigarettes.”

“Vaping has saved lives,” said Norman Ismail, secretary general of the Malaysia E-Vaporizers and Tobacco Alternative Association (MEVTA). “As ex-smokers, we have changed to vaping. And some have even quit both, due to being a part of the support community. [Vapourisers] do not contain 4,000-plus chemicals and carcinogens, but only four elements you find in your daily life and food intake. So how can that be damaging?” 

“In 2015, we estimated that the number of vaping shops in Kuala Lumpur was about 600. But now, it’s not more than 150. Every day we hear of shops being closed”

Vaping has been banned in Thailand, Singapore and Cambodia, while several other Southeast Asian nations are mulling prohibition. This has made Malaysia one of its last bastions in the region, and such was vaping’s popularity that, in November, GlobalPost dubbed Malaysia “Asia’s vaping wonderland”.

MEVTA estimates that the country’s vaping industry was worth almost $670m in 2015. This is calculated based on the health ministry’s estimation that there were 1.2 million vapers, and the assumption that each bought a 30ml e-liquid refill once a week – this excludes hardware and accessories that would significantly raise the industry’s value.

However, if Malaysia could have been called a vaping wonderland just a few months ago, today it is beginning to resemble a paradise lost.

Ismail told Southeast Asia Globe that vaping remains a grey area in Malaysia; it is not banned but “has yet to be regulated and legalised”, he said. However, this is set to change in the coming months. Late last year, the Ministry of Health announced it was working on laws to regulate vaping, from where one can and cannot smoke to rules on the manufacture and sale of products. It has also been suggested that liquids will only be sold by licensed pharmacists and registered medical practitioners.

“We’re only regulating the use and sale of vapes,” deputy health minister Hilmi Yahaya told local reporters in December, adding that the government had no intention of implementing an outright ban, although state-level governments can choose to do so, as those in the states of Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Johor and Kelantan have. The ministry has promised that the regulations will be drafted by the end of this year.

If regulations are passed, Malaysia would not be the only country in the world seeking to control the e-cigarette market. The European Union is mulling the EU Tobacco Products Directive that could see e-cigarettes sold with labels warning users that they contain highly addictive substances, and would ban the sale of liquids with more than 20mg of nicotine per ml (vaping liquids are sold with varying degrees of nicotine strength).

MEVTA has publicly backed the government’s decision to regulate the industry, and suggested that others in favour of vaping do so too, but has called on the Ministry of Health to conduct a fair review and assessment of the vaping industry and its health effects. It has also been keen to stress that vaping should be seen primarily as a way to stop smoking cigarettes, and not as a cultural trend as some contend it has become. 

However, according to Ismail, Malaysia’s Ministry of Health has long been the vapers’ “public enemy number one”.

“With the current scare tactics imposed by the health ministry on the harm of vaping, the numbers of vapers have declined tremendously,” he said. “In 2015, we estimated that the number of vaping shops in Kuala Lumpur was about 600. But now, it’s not more than 150. Every day we hear of shops being closed.”

There has been a great number of discrepancies in how the government has responded to the practice. The deputy director-general of public health, Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, told the media in November that the drop in the number of vapers – reportedly from 800,000 in October 2014 to just 200,000 seven months later – was reflective of the public’s view of it as “something that is harmful”.

Last year, Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council advocated to make vaping haram, or forbidden, in Islam. “It is detrimental to health,” chairman Abdul Shukor Husin told reporters. “Islam forbids its followers from using things that can harm them directly or indirectly; immediately or gradually that can lead to death, damage the body, result in dangerous illnesses or harm the mind.” However,  cigarettes have been considered haram for years, and this has done little to prevent the country’s smokers from lighting up.

On the back of a declining number of vapers, a number of Malaysian vape distributors have pre-empted the worst and begun “pivoting their business to the export market”, as Jeremy Ong, co-founder of online vape shop VapeClubMY, told FreeMalaysiaToday in May.

Still, Ong warned that those who used to vape might simply return to smoking cigarettes. “Are the public health officials pleased about this?” he asked rhetorically.

The World Health Organisation’s latest report on tobacco use in Malaysia, conducted in 2011, estimated that 44% of men and 1% of women smoke cigarettes regularly, consuming, on average, 14 sticks per day. The report also stated that more than 10,000 Malaysians die from smoking-related illnesses every year.

For health officials and vaping advocates around the world, the major question that needs to be answered is whether it is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. For Malaysia’s supporters of vaping the answer is a resounding yes. And they argue that by cracking down on vaping, either through rhetoric or legislation, the government is forcing a large number of its citizens back onto cigarettes, the world’s number one cause of preventable death.  The government, however, claims only to be trying to regulate an industry that, to date, has been uncontrolled and experienced rapid growth. And neither is it the only country in the world to be doing so.

When asked about the future of vaping in Malaysia, Ismail responded: “It’s currently bleak, but there’s always hope. And hope is better than nothing at all.”

A litigious state of mind

Transnational tobacco companies are now suing governments

In December 2011, the Australian government introduced pioneering legislation to force tobacco companies to sell their cigarettes in drab brown, logo-free packaging with prominent pictorial health warnings. The plain packaging was supposed to reduce the number of smokers and, according to some studies, was working.

Yet before the bill had even been approved by parliament, Philip Morris Asia, which is based in Hong Kong and owns the Australian affiliate, filed a lawsuit against the government. The firm argued that the plain packaging regulation violated a free trade agreement between the two countries signed in 1993.

More than four years after the legal battle began, an international arbitration court ruled in the Australian government’s favour. Philip Morris also initiated legal proceedings against Uruguay in 2010 over its anti-smoking legislation, for which the South American country had received accolades from the World Health Organisation. The tobacco giant wants $25m in compensation; the case has yet to be decided.

“The tactic at the moment of the transnationals is to challenge governments. And they never win; they only one they’ve ever won was in [the US] of all places. They challenged the introduction of pictorial health warnings, and that has been put on hold because of that legal challenge. But everywhere else in the world, it takes two to three years, or longer, and it’s intimidatory: it’s a chill effect [that discourages] other countries doing the same,” explained Judith Mackay, a leading tobacco control advocate and senior advisor to Vital Strategies.