NGOs say ‘no’ to lethal little packs

21 August 2017:

PETALING JAYA: There is a proposal for “kiddie” cigarette packs to be sold in Malaysia again. And NGOs that have gotten wind of the proposal are not happy.

Smaller and cheaper packs will only invite more young smokers, they say.

Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) president Dr Molly Cheah said the council made some checks about the proposal and it turned out to be true.

“This is absolutely shocking. Malaysia must never allow this agenda because it will make it cheap for children to use cigarettes,” she said.

The Control of Tobacco Product Regulations (of the Food Act 1983) was introduced in 2004 but it was two years later that the Health Ministry told cigarette companies to take packs of seven and 10 sticks off the shelves.

The 14-stick pack was removed in 2010.

“Legislation prohibits the sale of small pack cigarettes – manufacturers are not allowed to sell cigarettes in packets of fewer than 20 sticks – and the prohibition is consistent with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which Malaysia is a party to,” said Dr Cheah.

“We want to know which ministry is proposing the agenda and for what purpose,” she said, adding that the Government should not back-pedal on its policy.

If the proposal was to bring in more revenue as a way to counter illicit cigarettes, she said there was no evidence to show it would work.

“Is revenue more important than the health of citizens, especially the young?” she said, adding that smaller packs would attract youngsters and women.

In fact, Dr Cheah said evidence showed that when cigarettes were expensive, consumption would come down.

“If illicit cigarette use is a problem, the authorities must find evidence to address it. You have to look at illicit cigarettes like you do illicit drugs,” she said.

According to sources, the tobacco industry was pushing for the kiddie pack to be reintroduced.

Federation of Malaysia Consumers Association’s (Fomca) Tobacco Control@Smoke Free Malaysia Initiative coordinator Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah said NGOs were called on Wednesday to give feedback on the possible kiddie pack proposal.

“We learnt that the kiddie pack proposal may be brought to the Cabinet soon for discussion,” he said.

Muhammad Sha’ani said the proposal was supposedly to reduce the loss in tax revenue from cigarette smuggling.

“The tobacco industry often claims that half the cigarettes sold in the country are contraband.

“The high price of cigarettes is being blamed for driving people to illicit cigarettes, hence a smaller pack is being proposed, so some tax revenue is recouped,” he said.

Muhammad Sha’ani said lower priced cigarette packs would worsen the smoking habit among children and teenagers in Malaysia.

Quoting Tobacco and E-Cigarette Survey Among Malaysian Adolescents (TECMA) 2016, he said 14.2% of adolescents in Malaysia were smokers.

He argued that a normal pack of 20 sticks cost RM17 and if a “kiddie pack” of 10 sticks cost RM8 or RM9, it would still be more expensive than illicit cigarettes which cost around RM5 for 20 sticks.

“People will still buy the cheaper illicit cigarettes,” he said.

Customs Department director-general Datuk T. Subromaniam said there was no proposal from his department for the kiddie packs.

Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the Cabinet had yet to decide on the proposal but his ministry was against it.