KUALA LUMPUR, June 4 — The government should not prohibit the consumption of tobacco in its efforts to curb its use, the chief executive officer of the Centre for Market Education (CME) Carmelo Ferlito said.
He was referring to the Health Ministry’s intention to introduce a generational end game — prohibit possession and sale of tobacco products including vaping products to anyone born after 2005 — to fight the use of tobacco.
“(Some may agree), I do not agree that the government should fight tobacco consumption, prohibition is not the way to go, prohibition will only increase the market share of illegal products (which in Malaysia is already the highest in the world),” he told Malay Mail.
After all, international market research company Nielsen — in its latest Illicit Cigarettes Study (ICS) in Malaysia (March 2022) — showed that illicit cigarette incidence hit 58.4 per cent in March 2022 as opposed to 54.6 per cent in December 2021.
“Let’s not forget that the production of smoking products is the source of income for millions of people around the world.
“Banning consumption means to put at risk the lives of several households (again, unintended consequences ignored by those who always believe they are the ultimate deciders of what truth is),” Ferlito added.
He said policies should move from banning consumption to attempts (not force) to shift consumption towards less harmful products.
“People will not renounce the pleasure of consumption, at best they can change the way in which they consume it,” he said.
He explained that the general strategy adopted by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin is quite invasive when it comes to individual freedom of choice and market forces.
Indeed, it will generate an important shift of market share from the legal to the illegal suppliers, he added.
In France, it has been reported that even measures like plain packaging have failed as sales went up even after the stripping of branding from packs.
The then French health minister was reported saying, “Plain packaging did not contribute to the decrease of official tobacco sales.”
Ferlito explained that is why he is “in favour of switching consumption habits (example, towards vaping) rather than prohibiting and pushing to quit.”
In fact, he reckoned that prohibition will be the greatest favour the government can do for smugglers.
“Regular producers ― who create legal jobs and pay taxes ― will be harmed, while smugglers will be rewarded,” he said.
In suggesting what can be done, Ferlito said tobacco policy should use more rewards to incentivise behavioural change, while tobacco punishments and taxes should be minimised or avoided entirely.
“Tobacco policy should focus entirely on decreasing tobacco smoking. Restrictions and taxes related to e-cigarettes, vaping and heated tobacco should be minimised; and tobacco policy should focus on creating an environment that incentivises innovation (for the emergence of less harmful pleasure-consumption products),” he said.
Ferlito also pointed out that public policy should focus on encouraging and incentivising experimentation, while removing as many barriers as possible from the work needed to create, develop and sell new products.
“Governments need to implement a favourable tax regime whereby consumers receive both health and financial incentives when shifting their consumption habits from smoking to any other product.
“Such policies include the elimination of VAT-like taxes and excise taxes on e-cigarettes, heated tobacco, and vaping products. Any decreased tax revenues could easily be offset by the reduced healthcare costs,” he said.