Singapore: Man gets record S$99,000 fine for illegally selling e-cigarettes online

10 September 2019
Nuria Ling

SINGAPORE — A 35-year-old man who illegally sold 200 sets of electronic cigarettes online was sentenced to a fine of S$99,000 on Monday (Sept 9) — the

harshest penalty ever meted out to a seller of electronic vaporisers here.

Chong Weisheng will serve a default jail term of 33 weeks as he is unable to pay the fine, his lawyer Wee Pan Lee told a district court.

This was the stiffest fine imposed since 2014, when a 32-year-old man was fined S$64,500 for similarly selling e-cigarettes online, the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said in a press release.

Since 2014, the authorities have prosecuted 20 people for selling electronic vaporisers. These are battery-operated devices — such as e-cigarettes, e-pipes and ecigars— that mimic smoking by delivering nicotine in vapour form.

Chong’s Gangsa Road flat was raided by HSA inspectors in March 2015.

Investigations revealed that Chong bought e-cigarettes from various overseas suppliers to sell through an e-commerce website, which is no longer operational.

The court heard that he ran the site for almost three years, from 2012 up till he was arrested, and promoted it on e-cigarette forums.

He sent the products out by post using an alias, Hendrix, so his identity could remain a secret. He earned about S$2,000 to S$3,000 a month, pulling in an estimated S$66,000 to S$99,000 in total profits.

When he learned that HSA was clamping down on peddlers like himself, he tried to hide his activities from the authorities, such as by changing his website domain twice. A third website he created required people to enter a password to access it.

Chong was selective with his customers, and labelled his sales transactions as “computer IT services” to cover up his offences, the HSA said in its release.

He admitted that he renamed the transactions after reading about a raid against one particular site. He also told one of his customers not to mention e-cigarettes when emailing him to buy something, the court heard.

On Monday, he pleaded guilty to 33 charges of selling imitation tobacco products under the Tobacco (Control of Advertisements and Sale) Act. Another 138 similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

While his lawyer sought a fine of no more than S$2,000 per charge, District Judge John Ng said that he had to bear in mind the number of charges Chong faced.

Each charge carries a maximum punishment of a S$10,000 fine, or six months’ jail, or both.

Those who commit a second or subsequent offence can be fined up to S$20,000, or jailed up to a year, or both.

It is also illegal to possess, buy or use electronic vaporisers. Those who do so can be fined up to S$2,000.

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