Jakarta is a city of smokers, but its vape bars are under threat of government crackdown

Jakarta is a city of smokers, but its vape bars are under threat of government crackdown

Jakarta is a city of smokers, but its vape bars are under threat of government crackdown

Updated 30 November 2017, 16:50 AEDT

A booming market for e-cigarettes in Indonesia is about to go up in smoke after the country's trade minister vowed to clamp down on vaping.

In an inner-city vape bar, a group of hip, tattooed 20-something Jakartans slouch against a high, glass-topped table.

In Australia, they'd be at home in a Newtown cafe or a Bondi bar. Here, they're vaporistas.

Periodically, one of them sucks on a small rectangular e-cigarette, or 'mod', and exhales a dense white cloud of nicotine-tinged carrier liquids.

"I vape because it's healthier than smoking. It doesn't have carcinogens, which can cause a lot of sickness," 21-year-old Dika Kurniadi says.

"Vaping is helping me to reduce my smoke consumption, because I was a heavy smoker. I feel my body is healthier."

I'm not sure if he's being serious. Vaping is hardly healthy.

In fact, scientists say there are toxic substances in the superheated vaping liquid, but it's probably better for you than smoking.

Indonesia's vapers are mostly young, and bars like the unambiguously named Ministry of Vape are popping up all over the place in Jakarta.

In a city with few public spaces, these bars are popular and cheap hangouts.

There are tables full of tools to help clean and maintain the mods and atomisers that transform a couple of drops of vaping liquid into a lungful of steam.

How do e-cigarettes work?

  • E-cigarettes are battery operated devices that heat a cartridge of liquid nicotine into a mist to be vaporised.
  • They deliver nicotine (the addictive agent in cigarettes) without burning tobacco and producing harmful smoke.
  • Smoking e-cigarettes is often referred to as 'vaping'.

There are couches where you can slump and vape. The bars don't charge entry, but they do sell vaping liquid.

"For me it's cheaper than smoking," another vaper, Dika, says.

Dika spends the equivalent of about $15 per month on vape liquid, compared to up to $50 a month on cigarettes.

Smoking pervasive in Indonesia

But this thriving industry is in serious trouble.

Indonesia's trade minister Enggartiasto Lukita says the Government will crack down on the importation of vape liquid — water infused with nicotine and flavouring — because the Government's not making any money from it.

"What is the benefit for us?" Mr Lukita said recently.

"They don't use tobacco, cloves, or anything. There's no benefit and it's not healthy."

You don't have to go far from the Ministry of Vape to see how Indonesia's cigarette companies feel about vaping.

Ministry of Vape manager Eqy Riqly is under no illusions as to why vaping is banned and smoking is permitted at the restaurant next door.

"I think because the cigarette companies already sponsor the restaurants," Mr Riqly says.

There's a cigarette poster prominently displayed, and each table holds ash trays with the logo of the company.

And while the Indonesian Government is taking a hard line on vaping, it's has a softer approach to the appallingly high rate of cigarette smoking here.

Two-thirds of Indonesian males over the age of 14 are smokers.

'I've smoked since I was seven'

There's a conflicting approach to tobacco control in Indonesia, where cigarettes generate $16 billion in excise tax for the Government.

There are graphic Australian-style anti-smoking warnings on cigarette packets, yet cigarette sales are unregulated.

A pack costs less than $2, and you can buy single cigarettes for a few cents on any street corner.

You can't smoke at the movies, but films are preceded by a string of long, glossy tobacco commercials, expensively filmed in exotic locations.

The ads specialise in motivational platitudes aimed at the young and naive.

"Move the world, don't let the world move you," one ad proclaims.

"Life is too short for other people's stories. Walk where your heart wants to walk," says another.

Slumped on one of the Ministry of Vape's couches, one customer, Tommy, says his new habit has already helped him.

"I vape because I wanted to quit smoking. I've smoked since I was seven years old. I quit in August 2016 because of vaping," he says.

He suspects the tobacco companies are behind the Government's hard line, and expects the threat of an outright ban will morph into something more effective.

"Indonesia is heaven for cigarettes. The big cigarette corporations in Indonesia, they want to slow down the growth of vape by introducing taxes," he says.