Take measures to arrest the illicit sale of tobacco-Dr. Mary Assunta-24/09/09

I REFER to “BAT cooperating fully with Govt” (The Star, Sept 17) and wish to comment on several statements that do not provide an accurate picture of the reality and is contrary to the international tobacco treaty (FCTC) that Malaysia has ratified.

Contrary to British American Tobacco’s (BAT) claim, law enforcement is indeed the responsibility of government authorities only. According to Article 5.3 of the FCTC, tobacco companies cannot conduct joint programmes with the Government or engage in any activities that will enable the industry to influence public policy.


The current retailer education programme that BAT conducts in cooperation with the Customs Department is contrary to the guidelines of the FCTC Article 5.3 which Malaysia adopted last year in Durban.

BAT said the smuggling problem arises because criminals exploit the large price differentials between cigarettes sold in Malaysia and its neighbours. However, even when there is no tax increase in Malaysia, smuggling of cigarettes remain high and this blows away BAT’s claims.

There are big differences in cigarette prices between Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, but it has not stopped the Singapore government from increasing tobacco tax to ensure that it is not affordable to minors and the poor. Similarly, the Thai government has increased tobacco tax to 75%, which is much higher than in Malaysia.

Tobacco smuggling is a law enforcement issue. For example, in 2004 when the authorities introduced the security ink on cigarette packs, smuggling was reduced from 20% to 14%, emphasising that international anti-smuggling measures and law enforcement is key to addressing smuggling.

BAT claims the illegal cigarettes have deteriorated from one out of four, to one out of three in less than a year. These are industry figures, and who knows how accurate they really are. Such statistics thrown around by tobacco companies need to be verified by the Customs Department.

If anything, BAT’s statistics show its joint programme with the Customs Department launched two years ago is not working. Worse, BAT’s statistics reflects poorly on the Customs Department’s ability to curb smuggling.

It is time for the authorities to stop this collaboration and implement FCTC Article 5.3.

BAT’s own internal documents now made public reveal that the company was involved in tobacco smuggling. Articles have been published in international journals illustrating this. The articles reveal contraband cigarettes have been profitable to BAT operations for over two decades.

It serves the authorities well to focus on smuggling as a law enforcement issue and not be distracted by BAT’s tactics to discourage tax increase. I urge the authorities to apply FCTC Article 5.3 and terminate the joint programme with the tobacco industry and raise tobacco tax to ensure cigarettes are beyond the reach of children and the poor.

As a longer term strategy, I endorse Malaysia’s active participation in the negotiations on the Protocol on Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products and hopefully Malaysia can ratify the Protocol to facilitate better law enforcement to arrest illicit trade on tobacco.

Senior Policy Advisor,
South-East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

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