KUALA LUMPUR: About 93 per cent Malaysians believe the increased availability of cheap illegal cigarettes in the country is a threat to the health of children, specifically minors under the age of 18.
In addition, 49 per cent of young adults between the age of 19 to 29 said it is easier to get illegal cigarettes today compared to 5 years ago, while 29 per cent said it was about the same in terms of accessibility to illegal cigarettes.
These findings came from the Malaysian Perception of Smoking and Vaping Survey, a recent opinion poll conducted by Green Zebras Sdn Bhd (GZSB), a leading market research company in Malaysia.
Looking into the concerns surrounding the rise in underage smoking, the poll also found that 8 in 10 Malaysians concur that the easy access to cheap illegal cigarettes are undermining efforts to reduce the overall smoking rate.
Most parents (79 per cent), teachers (87 per cent) and healthcare professionals (84 per cent) likewise agreed that cheap illegal cigarettes are counter-productive to the national health agenda aimed to get citizens to quit smoking.
This perception is supported by a separate survey done in 2016 by the Institute for Public Health and the Ministry of Health Malaysia, which also discovered an astounding 78.7 per cent of the respondents tried their first cigarette before they turned 14 years old.
GZSB’ Malaysian Perception on Smoking and Vaping Survey comprised of a sample size of 1,010 Malaysian adults and is reflective of the perception of all Malaysian adults across Peninsular Malaysia.
GZSB co-founder and managing director Steve Murphy said naturally, Malaysians are deeply concerned about underage smoking and they are well aware that the primary cause of this problem is the easy availability of cheap illegal cigarettes.
"Surprisingly, our survey also found that half or 50 per cent of non-smokers polled have indicated that
it is easier to get their hands on cheap illegal cigarettes today compared to 5 years ago.
"If non-smokers know where to get illegal cigarettes, what about curious underage school kids?" he
"Clearly, the illegal cigarettes problem in Malaysia is more than just about the economics of lost taxes. Our survey shows that Malaysians also clearly understand its far-reaching negative impact on underage smoking, the national health agenda and other social ills, including fostering corruption and criminal activities.
"However, beyond just putting two and two together
– what else can be done to prevent Malaysian youth from accessing cheap illegal cigarettes?" Murphy said.
In a recent study by Oxford Economics entitled The Economics of the Illicit Tobacco Trade in Malaysia showed Malaysians purchase 1,000 sticks of illegal cigarettes every minute.
More worryingly, the study found that illegal cigarettes cost only about RM4.50 a pack compared to legal cigarettes that cost around RM15 per pack.