Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad today assured that while cigarette prices are expected to go up, they will not reach a point where smokers turn to illicit cigarettes instead.
“In our assessment, we are looking not only at increasing duties, but also the impact of taxation on illicit cigarettes.
“The lower income group will turn to illicit cigarettes if prices reach unaffordable levels for them. This will cause a rise in chronic-related diseases that could lead to cancer,” he said to Wong Chen (PH-Subang) in the Dewan Rakyat.
Wong had asked if the government would increase tax duties on cigarettes from the present 53% up to 75% per stick in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
However, the minister said there should be a balance between cigarette duties and the impact on the rise in illicit cigarettes.
He said several studies had shown that the government was losing 27-45% of revenue each year due to illicit cigarettes.
He added that the finance ministry under the previous administration had put the figure closer to 60%.
According to WHO, he said, some 20,000 adults in Malaysia die every year due to smoking.
He cited a 2007 study on the cost of healthcare which put the cost of treating lung cancer and heart and pulmonary diseases in Malaysia at RM2.92 billion a year.
“Of that, 67.5% was borne by the government with the remainder borne by the patients,” he said, adding that this amounted to 0.7% of the GDP.
He said cigarette prices would continue to rise as part of efforts to curb smoking, otherwise the cost of healthcare could hit RM7.04 billion by 2025.
He added that curbing smoking among Muslims was dependent on an edict issued by the National Fatwa Council and enforcement by the religious department.
“Smoking is an addiction. Regardless of fatwas issued, those who are addicted will continue to smoke,” he said to a question by Ismail Mohamed Said (BN-Kuala Krau).