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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 27 — A near three-fold increase in alcohol excise has created strong demand for illicit liquor makers, said the Malaysian Liquor Manufacturer and Bottler Association in response to recent methanol poisoning deaths.
The association said the increase in 2016 caused excise duty for a 750ml bottle of 40 proof alcohol to go from RM6.75 to RM18, causing lower-income consumers to turn towards so-called “moonshiners”.
“These illicit operators do not pay any form of tax and stand to make 200 to 300 per cent in profits, with strong demand for alcohol products, weak enforcement and high tax, Malaysia is fast becoming a hotbed for smuggling and illicit activities,” it said.
Attention fell on illicit alcohol in the country on September 18 when seven people died and 16 were hospitalised after consuming suspected moonshine in Sungai Buloh.
What was initially thought to be an isolated incident turned into a nationwide problem after the death toll from methanol-laced alcohol reached 40 people across several states.
Methanol is an alcohol toxic to humans but it often use to spike moonshine in order to simulate higher proof liquor, similarly to how melamine was used to spike baby formula in China owing to its ability to raise protein content in testing.
The association explained that alcohol firms in the country fell into two categories: distillers and bottlers. All distillers are bottlers, but not vice versa. The former manufactures alcohol while the latter blends and packages alcohol products.
The group went on to defend bottlers against the perception that they were also “moonshiners” owing to their production of lower priced blended liquor, and said they were just as heavily regulated as distillers.
“The bottlers should be lauded for providing affordable and safe alcoholic beverages to the consumers instead of being vilified,” it said.
The group then urged the public to only purchase good quality alcohol and avoid products of dubious origins for their own safety.