Govt must stop putting tobacco revenue over public health


KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya must comply with a World Health Organisation (WHO) convention it ratified, which aims to reduce smoking, rather than place too much emphasis on its tobacco revenue, says the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC).

In an interview with FMT, MCTC president, Dr Molly Cheah said Malaysia had signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which was an evidence-based framework formulated through solid research.

“Malaysia signed and ratified this framework convention more than 10 years ago, so it is a legal commitment.”

Despite this, Cheah said Malaysia had failed to comply with several provisions of the binding framework convention, including the taxation of cigarettes, packaging requirements, advertising and enforcement amongst others.

For instance, Cheah said the framework convention specified that tax should constitute 70% of the retail price of a pack or carton of cigarettes, which would push up retail prices and as a result, deter young or new smokers from taking up the habit.

However, in Malaysia, this was not the case yet, as taxes on cigarettes did not yet hit the 70% mark.

As for cigarette packaging, Cheah said the framework called for 85% of a cigarettes’ packaging to constitute warning labels and images, but that in Malaysia the percentage was less than 70%.

Cheah also raised the issue of the non-direct advertising of cigarettes, pointing out that traders in Malaysian were still allowed to display cigarette boxes in the open.

“According to the framework convention Malaysia ratified, cigarettes are not supposed to be displayed in the open, but kept out of sight.

“Only when a customer requests for a pack or carton of cigarettes, are retailers allowed to bring them out.”

Another crucial issue Malaysia did not comply with, Cheah said, was enforcement on the sale of cigarettes to minors and the sale of loose sticks of cigarettes.

“We can still see many minors smoking and there also many shops which still sell loose cigarettes.”

Tobacco companies were also not allowed to carry out Corporate Social Responsibility activities, as it gave the impression that their product was acceptable to society.

Cheah said the solution was not difficult and that all it took was Putrajaya’s political will to see it through.

“The problem is that the government is putting too much emphasis on revenue rather than on public health.”

A Health Ministry study showed there were 4.44 million smokers in Malaysia in 2015, with an average daily consumption of 15 sticks per day or 24.3 billion sticks a year.