SINGAPORE - Using his Instagram account, retired local actor Mikhail Abdul Razak offered e-cigarettes for sale.
His illegal activity was detected by an officer from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) in December 2019, during online surveillance of e-cigarette peddlers.
About a week later, Mikhail offered to sell multiple imitation tobacco products to an undercover HSA officer.
On Thursday, the 44-year-old, who is better known as Nick Mikhail, was fined $13,000 after he pleaded guilty to one charge of advertising the illegal products and six counts of either selling or offering to sell them. A total of 25 other similar charges were taken into consideration during his sentencing.
According to HSA prosecutor Caleb Looi, Mikhail had published an advertisement relating to imitation tobacco products on his Instagram account in October 2019.
The prosecutor said: “It was through the advertisement that Instagram users could start conversing with the accused in order to purchase imitation tobacco products or its components.”
On various occasions that year, he sold or offered to sell vapes to various Instagram users.
On Dec 20, 2019, for example, he sold to an Instagram user two vapes – one for $66 and the other for $80.
That same day, after he handed other illegal tobacco products to the undercover HSA officer, the officer identified himself. Mikhail’s car and home were then searched, and e-cigarettes and related paraphernalia were found and seized.
Mikhail admitted to having made some successful transactions and that he had earned about $2,500 to $3,000.
Mikhail, who has appeared on shows on Malay-language television channel Suria, told the court that he had committed the offences in 2019 during a desperate time, and that he was a different person now.
He paid $6,500 of the fine on Thursday, after the court allowed him to pay the remaining amount in instalments.
For illegally advertising tobacco products, he could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to $10,000, or both.
He could have received the same punishment for each count of selling or offering to sell the illegal products.
Speaking to The Straits Times outside the court, Mikhail, who is now a loan broker, reiterated his remorse, and said: “I had a few shares in shops in Kuala Lumpur, so that’s where I could get access to all these items. So it became like a temptation... All I can say is that what I did was wrong.”
He was in the news at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic after he posted videos on Instagram complaining about the behaviour of three enforcement officers from the Urban Redevelopment Authority and three policemen who were conducting Covid-19 enforcement checks and inspected his home on July 31, 2021.
According to the latest statistics from HSA, 4,916 people were caught for using and possessing e-cigarettes in 2022, compared with 4,697 in 2021 and 1,266 in 2020.
A smoking and vaping survey by research firm Milieu Insight in September 2022 also showed illicit vaping to be on the rise in Singapore, with 4.3 per cent of adults using alternative products like vapes. This was up from 3.9 per cent in September 2021, and 3 per cent in the first quarter of 2021.