You’ve probably seen people vaping in public, but make no mistake – selling, buying and using electronic vaporisers is illegal in Singapore.
Despite hefty punishments for breaking the law, the risk is well worth it for a 28-year-old e-vaporiser importer and distributor, who declined to be named.
“I’ve already gone to jail once anyway,” he says. However, the one-year imprisonment didn’t deter him as he resumed his business almost “immediately after” his release from jail.
In a typical month, he claims he can make a 4 to 5-figure sum in the black market. “I have people helping me out with sorting and shipment of stock.”
His profits mainly come from selling products to other freelance distributors who deal directly with customers. “Some are friends, but mostly, my distributors are strangers that contacted me through my Telegram. After all, it’s a win-win situation, they get stocks at a lower price, I get my regular customers.”
One of his distributors, who requested to remain anonymous, is a 19-year-old girl.
“There are a lot of sellers but they’re mostly guys,” she says. “After finding out that I’m a girl, quite a few male customers have ordered more [e-liquid] pods and devices from me.
“When I do meet-ups, they also hit on me sometimes…The cheekopek uncles [dirty old men] always come back to buy more. Easy money,” she says, adding that she can earn $2,000 to $3,000 a month.
Although there is no standard business model, importers usually buy e-liquid pods in bulk for $12 to $14 per box. The distributors then sell it at around $25 to $30, which is the market value.
These sellers find most of their buyers from Telegram. They set up chat groups to advertise e-vaporiser devices and vape “juice” pods, which are interchangeable tanks of flavoured e-liquid.
The local Telegram groups can have up to 10,000 members and can easily be found when users key in search terms such as “vape” or “RELX”, a popular e-vaporiser brand.
The 19-year-old distributor says that she’s not afraid of being caught as she can “easily create a spare Telegram account that won’t be traced back” to her.
While some researchers claim that vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking, others have found that it could promote cigarette use, contribute to cancer development and delay brain development in young people. Singapore has taken the position to ban e-vaporisers in order to protect residents, especially the youth, from the long-lasting damage that nicotine addiction could bring.
Since 2018, it is an offence under section 16(2A) of the Tobacco Act to own, buy, sell or use e-vaporisers in Singapore.
Those found guilty of smuggling vaporisers to Singapore can be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to six months. Repeat offenders may face double of these charges.
In 2019, a man was even fined a record-breaking $99,000 for selling e-vaporisers online.
Despite the tough laws, the allure of making “fast cash” in the black market is still hard to resist for some sellers.
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