PETALING JAYA – It was once dubbed a multi-million ringgit industry catering to a million vapers.

Vaping hogged the limelight for the wrong reasons late last year which got health and religious authorities coming down hard to shut down the unregulated industry.

There were those who vouched for it claim it helped many quit smoking cigarettes while its critics stressed medical journals report vaping is no better than cigarettes.

Deputy director-general of public health Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, had in May, said the decline in the number of vapers showed “that the public sees it as something that is harmful”.

Today, the industry is almost dead. Many have been forced to close shop and those who still operate have to settle for lower returns. Those barely surviving have a small number of dedicated customers to thank.

Akie Najmudin, 34, who operates 14 Vaperz International in Section 14, Petaling Jaya said he had his hardcore customers.

“We have been around since 2012 and have created a strong customer base of regulars and vape hobbyists. Sales were really good last year when we could earn an average of RM1,000 a day,” said Akie.

“But when the hype died down and with the health ministry coming down hard on the industry, we have not seen any new faces. We earn between RM400 and RM600 now … just enough to survive.”

Hildi Hilmi, 38, who runs Placeboz in Subang Jaya, said: “I entered the business about a year and half ago and managed to ride on the vape boom, earning RM14,000 a month when I first started.

“When the health ministry and religious authorities came down hard, it was one of the worst few months for the industry which led to many talented brewers leaving and vape shops closing as they couldn’t keep up with the high overheads with slumping sales,” he added.

According to Hilmi the slowdown also killed off profiteers who had no real concern over their products.

“They called themselves brewers but were not concerned over the quality of their brew,” he said.

“The sliver lining is that these profiteers have left the industry, leaving it to people who are really passionate about their brewing. It also helped from the market becoming overly saturated, turning their customers into ours,” he said.

A vape shop owner in Titiwangsa, who identified himself as Naim, said his earnings were now about RM6,000 a month following the “vape bubble burst”.

“Shops established for more than two years have greater chance of surviving as they have a dedicated customer base.

“I entered the business in July last year and was happily earning RM1,200 a day from September until November.

“However, I almost lost my entire business. My sales have now dwindled to RM300 a day,” he said

According to Naim he had to let go some of his employees and relocate to a more modest location to survive.

“I used to have six employees, opening from noon to midnight seven days a week. But I had to let all but two of them go and relocate to a cheaper commercial lot to cut costs.

“It’s like starting all over on square one again after the bubble burst. We are barely surviving now as we have to rebuild our brand and presence in the market which will take some time,” he said.

– Malay Mail