DETERRING SMOKERS: It’s the most effective way to reduce smoking among young, poor and women, says NGO
KUALA LUMPUR: THE Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control has urged the government to increase up to fourfold the tax and prices of cigarettes to deter smokers and reduce non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country.
Its president, Dr Molly Cheah, said taxation and pricing were the most effective way to reduce smoking, especially among the young, low-income earners and women.
“These groups are the most sensitive towards any price change in cigarettes and will eventually cut down before quitting the habit,” she said after a discussion with several non-governmental organisations and Health Ministry representatives here.
She said the ministry’s handbook had listed tobacco as the number one risk factor for NCDs, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancers in Malaysia.
Dr Cheah said the prices of cigarettes sold in the country were much lower than neighbouring countries like Singapore and Brunei.
“World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation has suggested for taxation to constitute 70 per cent of cigarette retail price, but in Malaysia, it is only at 49 per cent,” she said, adding that Malaysia was still far from WHO’s recommendation for effective use of taxation.
The discussion had resulted in a memorandum, which would be submitted to the government to propose an increase in cigarette tax in the coming budget, a fourfold increase of cigarette prices, a discussion with the Finance Ministry and to exclude cigarettes in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
Council secretary-general Shaari Ahmad Junid said the government must be committed with a strong will to impose a higher tax on tobacco.
He said that the perception that price and tax hikes would increase cigarette smuggling activity did not hold water any more.
Shaari also said under the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the government should not treat the tobacco industry the same as any other industry.
“Tobacco usage kills and we should not compromise public health.”
Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health president Datuk Hatijah Ayob said taxation and pricing could help make cigarettes unaffordable and less accessible to young Malaysians.
“There are smokers as young as 10 and we want to stop them from picking up smoking and becoming addicted to it,” she said, adding that once one started smoking, they would become addicted to nicotine.