“When inhaled it will let out smoke with desired flavor, it’s not dangerous and the LED light will lit up in red as if burning. It is just cool!”
Thus went the promotion for “Rokok Elektrik Surabaya” (Surabaya Electronic Cigarettes). The pamphlet in which these words are printed goes on to say that the cigarettes are simple, modern, environmentally friendly and do not contain tar or chemicals as most other tobacco products.
Officials, however, have warned the public to be wary of such advertisements because electronic cigarettes or “e-cigarettes” – sometimes also known as Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) – are not as safe as they claim to be.
“They are not safe,” Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) Narcotics and Addictive Substances director Danardi Sosrosumihardjo said of e-cigarettes on Friday in Jakarta.
The producers of e-cigarettes do not always clarify the amount of nicotine in their products, he said. He also cited a 2009 report by the United States’ Food and Drugs Agency (FDA), which reveals inconsistencies in nicotine content in products of the same label and packaging. ENDS are usually shaped like cigarettes. The “filter” part of the device (or “cartridge”) contains liquid with nicotine content that is vaporized with an atomizer. The vapor is then inhaled and the nicotine delivered to the lungs.
Currently, ENDS are sold in several parts of Indonesia, including Semarang, Surabaya, Lampung and Palembang, Danardi said.
The distributors of e-cigarettes also offer liquid “flavors” ranging from fruit or coffee to other local cigarette brands.
The packages of electronic cigarettes displayed by Danardi include a battery component, a charger and a USB connection.
According to the “Surabaya Electronic Cigarettes” website, the liquid is made in China but packaged locally.
The prices of e-cigarettes sold online range from Rp 160,000 (US$17) to Rp 375,000.
The website also features a laboratory testing certificate with a letterhead mentioning the ministries of trade and industry.
BPOM officials said these products were sold illegally but that they did not have the authority to conduct raids or take other legal action against anyone selling them.
Danardi said the 2003 Law on Cigarette Controls stipulates that cigarettes are products containing tobacco leaves.
“This does not apply to e-cigarettes,” he said.
Danardi added that because ENDS product were sold here without excise stamps, the Trade Ministry should have the authority to take legal action against their sale.
In 2008, the World Health Organization stated it did not consider electronic cigarettes a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit.