Nip it in the ‘butt’: Supply of cheap illegal cigarettes causes rise in Malaysian youth smoking

Exposure to cigarettes from an early age is one of the main contributing factors. — AFP pic
Exposure to cigarettes from an early age is one of the main contributing factors. — AFP pic

PETALING JAYA, June 3 — Retail and Trade Brand Advocacy Malaysia Chapter (RTBA Malaysia) revealed today that the rise in youth smoking in the country is mainly due to the availability of illegal cigarettes.

RTBA Malaysia made the statement in response to a recent survey conducted by the Consumer Association of Penang (CAP), which uncovered that children in Malaysia are familiarised with cigarettes and smoking from as young as five to seven years old.

The survey showed that children were exposed to cigarettes when they were asked to purchase cigarettes for their fathers, which eventually led some to pick up the unhealthy habit from the tender age of eight.

According to the study, irresponsible traders also indirectly encourage the habit, as some even sell cigarettes in single sticks, removing the need to buy a bulky cigarette pack.

RTBA Malaysia is a subdivision of an international non-government organisation, headquartered in Australia, that aims to safeguard retail and supplier industries from criminal conduct such as counterfeiting, piracy and illicit trade.

RTBA Malaysia managing director Datuk Fazli Nordin said in a press statement that easy access and cost-efficient prices — well below the minimum prices set by the government — make it so much easier for youths to purchase cigarettes.

A CAP education officer during a press conference on May 30. — Bernama pic
A CAP education officer during a press conference on May 30. — Bernama pic

“CAP’s survey is spot-on and RTBA Malaysia believes that the primary contributing factor to this problem is the prevalence and proliferation of cheap illegal cigarettes in Malaysia,” said Fazli.

“The sheer volume and presence of cheap illegal cigarettes are a threat to young Malaysians as well as to the nation’s socio-economic and health agendas.”

Fazli added that, according to the 2016 “Tobacco & E-Cigarette Survey among Malaysian Adolescents” (Tecma) conducted by the Health Ministry, 71.6 per cent of respondents under the age of 19 (who are current cigarette smokers) bought packs that cost less than the RM9 per pack minimum price limit.

“Only illegal cigarettes are able to be sold at less than RM9 per pack. Most are as low as RM3 to RM4.50 per pack. This provides youths with easy access from an affordability standpoint,” said Fazli.

Fazli also said that according to RTBA’s “Illicit Tobacco in the Asia-Pacific Region: Causes and Solutions” report launched two months ago, Malaysia is bucking global trends with a continually growing youth smoking rate.

He added that large volumes of contraband tobacco, primarily in the form of illicit whites — which are legally manufactured cigarettes that have been smuggled into the country — are brought into the country due to border controls not being “tight enough.”

With World No Tobacco Day 2020 being held just three days ago on May 31, Fazli has called on officials to crack down on illegal cigarette trades for the sake of Malaysian youth.

“As World No Tobacco Day 2020 is about protecting the youth, Malaysian policymakers must do more from a public policy, border security, enforcement and excise reform perspective to crucial the scourge of illegal cigarettes once and for all.”

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