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Indonesians vape to quit smoking 

MARCEL THEE, Contributing writer

     Ex-smokers also say that they appreciate that vaping has a more preferable aftereffect than cigarettes.

     "After a week of vaping, the taste of cigarette felt distasteful. Breathing became lighter, no case of bad breath, I didn't tire or feel ill as easily, and I grew a better appetite," said Fajar Abri Putranto, 30.

     In a country where a packet of Marlboro cigarettes only costs a little over a dollar, the government has done relatively little to convince the more than 70 million adult regular smokers -- a figure provided by Indonesia's Tobacco Control Support Center -- to quit. In fact, the proportion of adult males who smoke has gone up from 53.4% in 1995 to 65.9% in 2010, while the rise among women was even more drastic: from 17% to 42% over the same period. In a report, the center wrote that the government earned $7 billion from tobacco-related excise in 2011, and allocated $3 billion to the Ministry of Health.

     The smoking culture has made tobacco-business owners very wealthy. Brothers Budi and Michael Hartono, who head Djarum kretek, topped the Forbes rich list in the country in 2014. In second place was Susilo Wonowidjojo, who owns Gudang Garam.

     While there is no reliable data on the number of vaporizer users in Indonesia, it is believed to be insignificant compared with tobacco sales. A representative of one of Indonesia's largest tobacco companies, who requested anonymity, said there is no comparison and that his company is merely "observing" the rising fashion of "vaping."

     But Elvira Lianita, head of regulatory affairs, international trade and communications at Sampoerna, one of Indonesia's largest tobacco companies, said the company supported regulating e-cigarettes and vaporizers.

Feeling better

Surprisingly, most vaporizer sellers agree they should be regulated.

     Quintonio Kalalo, who runs Indovape.com, said there is concern that less experienced sellers are mixing e-liquids to create new flavors without exercising any caution. There has so far been no report of death or illness caused by these mixes in Indonesia, but sellers say that the quality of e-liquids varies and that it is a bad idea to mix certain chemicals together. Improper modification of vaporizers can also harm the users.

     While he worries that regulating the industry would devastate the thriving business momentum, Kalalo said it could lead to a homegrown industry producing vaporizers and e-liquids.

     Wibowo also thinks that regulation could have benefits. "There are good aspects to it being in a grey area, but it also means a lot of misinformation produced by the media or the government," he said.

     Kalalo said he hoped the government would see vaporizers as a good way to cut down the high smoking rate in Indonesia, as he discovered himself. He said he found it difficult to quit even when he was a student in Australia and spending up to $25 on a pack in a country that has one of the highest cigarette taxes in the world. He recalled "loving the feel of the smoke going into my lungs, but also knowing my lungs was not able to take anymore" before he tried a vaporizer. After 15 years as a smoker, he quit in a day. 

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