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Ignore company sob stories and raise tobacco tax, Putrajaya told

PETALING JAYA: A former health ministry official has urged the government to start increasing tobacco taxes again, saying it is the most effective way to discourage smoking.

Tobacco control expert Dr Zarihah Mohd Zain, who helped draw up smoking regulations in Malaysia, urged the government to increase the tax five-fold.

She said the government should ignore the “sob stories” of cigarette-makers. The companies had fooled the government into not increasing the tobacco tax for the past five years, in order to counter the sale of cheaper, smuggled cigarettes, she said.

“If we start increasing the tax again, it would lead to higher prices of tobacco products, a good way to reduce demand for smokers,” she told FMT.

“For the last five years that the government did not increase the tax, did it manage to solve the smuggling problem? Not at all,” she said. “In fact, that is just how the tobacco industry fooled the government.”

Zarihah said she believed the main cause of black market cigarettes was corruption among enforcement officers who allowed the illegal products to enter the country.

She said the government should simultaneously end the sale of duty-free cigarettes and start investigating enforcement officers for corruption.

Zarihah said that although the tobacco industry generates revenue for the country, the government is also burdened to cover the cost of smoking cessation programmes. “It is just not worth it. The government needs to realise that this industry is a revenue drainer for Malaysia,” she said.

Health minister Dr Adham Baba told the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that the government may consider using cigarette and tobacco duties to fund anti-smoking programmes. He said there were an estimated 4.8 million smokers in the country, amounting to 21% of the population.

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations has welcomed higher tobacco taxes to cover healthcare costs as practised elsewhere and recommended by the World Health Organization.

“Tax collected should be used to provide smoking cessation programmes. Mortality and sickness due to tobacco smoke is a drain on healthcare cost and national productivity,”said Fomca tobacco control co-ordinator Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah.

In July this year, a global consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Centre warned that the sale and purchase of smuggled cigarettes — which can cost only a third of the price of the legal stuff — will continue to grow barring changes to local tobacco taxes.

CCC said black market cigarettes had captured 60% of the market, catering to an estimated 5 million smokers in Malaysia.

A total of 22,000 smokers had been treated under the smoking cessation programme so far, and the government spent RM2.8 million on the programme last year alone.

Originally published here.

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