Smuggled cigarettes: Big blow to curbing smoking habit, say observers

Johor Customs Department director Datuk Mohammad Hamidan Maryani (2nd left) with the contraband cigarettes during the media conference at Menara Kastam Johor in Johor Baru September 17, 2019. — Picture by Ben Tan
Johor Customs Department director Datuk Mohammad Hamidan Maryani (2nd left) with the contraband cigarettes during the media conference at Menara Kastam Johor in Johor Baru September 17, 2019. — Picture by Ben Tan

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 — The dumping of smuggled cigarettes in the country, reaching up to 12 billion sticks a year, is a massive blow to the aim of the Ministry of Health to curb the smoking habit among Malaysians.

The effort of the government to achieve the aspiration by imposing a high excise duty on cigarettes would surely be ineffective because smuggled cigarettes, which came under numerous brands, were easily obtainable at a far cheaper price in the market.

Legal cigarette producers in the country were also impacted at the deluge of these smuggled cigarettes and believed they were also planned smuggling activities, including bringing them in as transit items into the country, with the cigarettes eventually entering the local market.

Numerous quarters met by Bernama wanted more stringent and holistic enforcement actions from the grassroots level in curbing the perpetual smuggling in of cigarettes. Day after day, the media reported the successes of the authorities in seizing a large number of cartons of cigarettes but the smugglings were unrelenting.

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) deputy president Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman said a more rigorous legal action should be imposed on traders as a lesson to them against being involved in selling illicit cigarettes.

“The illegal cigarettes are being sold at a far cheaper price compared to legitimate cigarettes in the market.

“Therefore, when the illicit cigarettes are not controlled, they are easily obtained by consumers and indeed this situation will complicate the effort of the government to curb the smoking habit among Malaysians.

“As such, in the effort of the government to raise the prices of cigarettes to reduce the number of smokers and encourage a healthy lifestyle, tough punishments must be imposed on those involved in cigarette smuggling activities,” he told Bernama.

In the meantime, Malaysian Youth Council (MBM) president Jufitri Joha said, despite the many enforcements implemented, the factor of corruption could be an obstacle.

“Currently, the act to control it is adequate, but without integrity on the part of the enforcement authorities, the cigarettes can be brought in arbitrarily, in addition to traders who are more concerned with profits rather than social responsibility,” he said.

In the meantime, he expressed concern at the young groups especially teenagers who were still schooling who would be impacted by the illegal and cheap cigarettes swamping the market.

“We are aware that the cigarettes themselves do have their disadvantages, but these illicit cigarettes which are sold cheaply are detrimental to health, have high nicotine contents and may have been mixed with other ingredients.

“They are also easily obtainable including being sold online, through the WhatsApp applicant, we fear teenagers may be lured to buy them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the tobacco firm, Japan Tobacco International Bhd (JTI Malaysia) recently showed the extent the smuggling in of cigarettes threatened the public and stunt the effort of the government to curb the smoking habit.

Its Communications and Corporate Affairs director, Azrani Rustam said based on the Malaysian Illicit Cigarettes Study (ICS), it is estimated that 12 billion sticks of cigarettes are smuggled in each year into Malaysia.

He said the situation not only adversely affected the legitimate cigarette industry in the country but also impinge on the government which suffer loss of RM6 billion a year in excise tax. — Bernama

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