Plain packaging boon to tobacco black market, says research group

Morris said Putrajaya should look at regulating vaping and increasing tobacco prices in order to deter people from smoking cigarettes. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Morris said Putrajaya should look at regulating vaping and increasing tobacco prices in order to deter people from smoking cigarettes. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 13 — The introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products in Malaysia will not cut smoking but boost the illicit cigarette market instead, a researcher said today.

Reason Foundation's vice president for research Julian Morris said Malaysia would likely impose extra taxes on tobacco products should plain packaging be enforced, citing Australia’s experience.

"I don't think plain packaging is going to drive a substantial reduction in cigarettes. There will be a rise of illegitimate cigarettes instead," he said during a media briefing today.

Morris added that Putrajaya should look at regulating vaping and increasing tobacco prices in order to deter people from smoking cigarettes.

"Vaping has the ability to meet and exceed the ministry's ambitious target to reduce smoking. For that to happen however, there needs to be open access to vape products," he said.

Morris highlighted that any loss in government revenue for tobacco taxes after vaping is legalised can be made back by the reduction in expenditure for healthcare and also by the increase in productivity among Malaysians.

"Do they (government) care more about health of people or revenue? From the RM3-billion-a-year expected to be spent, you can cut expenditure down as people switch to vaping and you're saving money.

"It’s not just health expenditure, but a reduction in productivity. People are dying in the most productive years of their lives. There is a net loss to society," he said.

Malaysia last year announced that it was planning on introducing generic packaging for tobacco products in a bid to reduce consumption, with standardised colours and fonts to reduce brand recognition.

The Health Ministry, however, put the plan on hold until Putrajaya can ensure that it does not violate any intellectual property laws.