Time to increase tax on tobacco companies

October 29, 2020

Straits Times

LETTERS: A tobacco company sponsored black bus that has been driving around the streets of Kuala Lumpur recently, must be stopped. Surely promoting a tobacco company’s message is a violation of the law banning all forms of advertising, both direct and indirect.

This year the tobacco industry has stepped up its campaign to fight tax increase claiming this is what the public wants, when actually it is all about protecting the industry’s profits.

Some years ago, this tobacco company funded a study to show illegal cigarettes are more harmful than legal cigarettes and ran a media campaign but that did little to stop tax increase. Now it is taking its message literally to the streets in a bus.

Scientific evidence shows that legal and illegal cigarettes are addictive and harmful because both contain nicotine, a Class C poison in the Poisons Act 1952. Adolescents are more likely to engage in experimentation with nicotine from tobacco products. They are also more vulnerable since the dependence potential of nicotine delivered from tobacco smoking is higher than that of cocaine or heroin!

According to the World Bank there is no evidence to support the tobacco industry’s claim that tax increases worsens smuggling. The tobacco industry is the only one claiming tax increase fuels smuggling. In fact, volume of illicit cigarettes declined in countries that increased tobacco tax such as Philippines, Australia and Pakistan.

Smokers are more vulnerable to Covid-19 pandemic, and quitting is the right thing to do to reduce health risks. Disregarding the pandemic, to encourage more people to smoke, a couple of months ago, this tobacco company even introduced new cheap cigarettes in the market.

Our government is not obligated to rescue a harmful business, but it is mandated to protect public health and do what it takes to reduce tobacco use, such as applying fiscal measures and reducing tobacco access to minors.

Alarmingly, there has been no tax increase on tobacco in Malaysia for the past five years and cigarettes have remained affordable. The WHO states that higher taxes are particularly effective in reducing tobacco use among vulnerable populations, such as youth and low-income smokers.

It is high time the government increased tax on tobacco which will be a win-win for government and people, as it will inject more funds to the treasury, and will also help smokers quit.

Furthermore, the tobacco industry is the one that causes a big dent of RM7.4 billion to the Malaysian economy – that is the Health Ministry’s estimated expenditure to treat major illnesses caused by smoking, such as lung cancer and coronary heart problems by 2025.

The government must put an immediate stop to this black-market campaign by the tobacco company. Its message is highly misleading and serves only to hook our youths on nicotine. We need to take this black bus and its misleading message off the streets immediately.

DR MOHAMAD HANIKI NIK MOHAMED

President, Malaysia Association of Adolescent Health (MAAH)