Smuggled cigarettes more pressing issue than “kiddie packs” – MMA

Malaysia needs to pay more attention in addressing the problem of smuggled cigarettes as it is a more pressing matter than the issue of the “kiddie pack” cigarettes, according to the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).

MMA president Dr.Ravindran Naidu said smuggled cigarettes are cheaper than legal ones and easily available, disrupting anti-smoking efforts by the authorities. The cost factor basically affects everything, he said in an interview with a local news agency.

The debate on kiddie pack cigarettes, which are packets containing fewer than 20 sticks, has refused to die down despite Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr. S.Subramaniam saying they will never be endorsed by his ministry.

An association representing coffee shop owners in the country said the returned sale of such packs would stop smokers from seeking cheap illegal cigarettes.

However, Ravindran noted that the health ministry itself had removed the sale of these small packs of cigarettes. As such, the ministry was unlikely to approve their return to the shelves, he said.

“I don’t think they are going to approve it unless there is too much pressure on the ministry.I think the pressure on them is greater to cut down the number of people smoking.”

Ravindran said if smaller packs were allowed, they were likely to lead to an increase in smoking-related diseases.“I don’t have the statistics but I am sure such diseases will increase in number,” he added.

He also praised the ministry’s attempts to curb smoking by imposing a ban at some restaurants and public areas such as parks.

When asked whether this ban had been properly enforced, he responded: “I have not seen any. So far, I have been to many places but I have not seen any enforcement.”

He added that it was important to educate the public on the dangers of smoking in order to curb the act.

“It may not be possible to stop everybody from smoking, but many people can benefit,” Ravindran said.

Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) president Dr. Molly Cheah had recently criticised those urging the government to reintroduce the small packs of cigarettes.

She said there was no basis to the proposal mooted by lobbyists on the grounds that current pricing and packaging in Malaysia had resulted in an increase in consumption of illicit cigarettes.

“The mere fact that there has been no significant increase in the prevalence of smoking in Malaysia proves that this policy has worked, consistent with international research findings and recommendations by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

“Therefore, any attempts by any organisation to reintroduce the ‘kiddie pack’ will be regressive and will undermine the national policy on tobacco control,” she said.

According to the Customs Department, 828.23 million sticks of cigarettes, valued at RM82.68 million, were seized by the department last year, with the duties and taxes due on them amounting to RM648.92 million.

This is a huge increase from the 584.25 million sticks seized in 2015, valued at RM48.3 million and with RM315.43 million in tax value.

Illicit cigarettes are sold for between RM3.50 and RM8 per pack of 20 sticks. Legal cigarettes cost five times more, with a popular brand selling at RM17.

The Customs Department is seeking harsher penalties to deter traders and restaurateurs from selling contraband cigarettes. These are normally sold under the counter.

It is estimated that about 20,000 people in the country die each year from diseases linked to the smoking habit.

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