KUALA LUMPUR: The tobacco industry’s plan to manufacture smaller-sized packs of cigarettes, or ‘kiddy packs’ must be rejected by the government, said a public health consultant.
Consultant public health physician Prof Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said forbidding kiddy packs, containing 10 sticks of cigarettes, would protect minors from picking up a smoking habit.
Besides, he said by agreeing to the industry’s demand, it would be a step backward on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and would be an “embarrassing policy” to the global audience.
“It was shocking to learn that the cigarette industry has already started talking to the government to return to cigarettes in smaller packs as a means to address the problem of smuggling.
“The motive is very questionable as if the industry is oblivious to the fact that smaller packaging also makes it much easier to smuggle.
“Furthermore, this is just the right recipe to encourage new smokers especially among children and adolescents,” he said in a statement today.
Dr Lokman said it was “morally disgusting” for the industry to suggest that the sale of kiddy packs was an answer to address smuggling, and claimed that the tobacco industry was attempting to make cigarettes much more accessible to minors.
“We (public health physicians) do not want to argue on the validity of the estimated volume of the illicit and contraband cigarettes often highlighted by the industry nor do we want to ignore the fact that smuggling does exist.
“If smuggling is the issue, we are proposing to the government to address it head on.”
Dr Lokman said if the government was willing to re-invest the RM2 billion tobacco tax revenue to strengthen anti-smuggling activities, on top of existing resources, the government would be able to collect the return of investment (ROI) within a short period.
He said if cigarette smuggling could be stopped, hardcore smokers would be forced to buy only expensive cigarettes.
Casual smokers, on the other hand, would make an effort to quit, thus contributing to the reduction of 20 to 25 per cent smoker prevalence, he added.
“Thus, with just a single action (increasing excise tax), the gain is doubled, increasing revenue and reducing the number of smokers,” said Dr Lokman, who is also Academy of Medicine Malaysia’s College of Public Health Medicine president.
He said numerous studies had shown that investment in the number of enforcement officers, asset and intelligence activities would provide huge ROI within a relatively short time.
“For example, with the current price of premium cigarettes of RM17, the excise duty payable is RM8 per pack.
“If there are only two million smokers, the collectible excise tax will be up to RM5.7 billion, which is more than double the RM2 billion investment.
“In this regards, we strongly support the proposal by the Health Ministry to increase cigarette price to RM21.50.
“This will allow the government to collect RM12.60 in excise tax per pack, which will generate a total revenue of RM9.2 billion, which is five times the value of investment.”
Dr Lokman said illicit cigarettes must be completely eliminated and those involved in the business must be severely punished.
He added that the government should consider the proposal to license cigarette sellers and distributors, including make-shift businesses.
In addition to pricing, Dr Lokman suggested that all forms of indirect advertisements and marketing be stopped completely to prevent the initiation of smoking habit among minors.
“Kiddy packs and selling of loose cigarettes must not be allowed and those caught selling to minors should be imprisoned.
“Rest assured that the government will not lose out from ‘lucrative’ potential tax revenue because there are no more smokers in the country,” he added.