Is Putrajaya for or against smoking?

Bernama pic

PETALING JAYA: The government has drawn flak for exempting cigarettes from the sales and service tax (SST) if they are sold in restaurants.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, described the move as “contradictory and confusing” in the light of Putrajaya’s apparent anti-smoking stance.

He noted that the health ministry had earlier announced a plan to gazette outdoor eateries as no-smoking zones, which he described as a “good and strong” position to take in the interest of public health.

“On one hand, the government wants to protect people from the effects of inhaling secondary cigarette smoke but on the other hand it seems to be closing its eyes to the sale of products it has declared as carcinogenic,” he said.

He urged the government to be “consistent and predictable” in dealing with the issue of public health.

Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) president SM Mohamed Idris said cigarettes and alcohol should under no circumstances be exempt from SST because “there’s nothing nutritious” in them.

“CAP is of the view that tobacco and alcohol should be sold only at tobacco and alcohol houses,” he told FMT. “Restaurants should just sell food and drinks.”

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng announced the exemption in a press statement on Wednesday, prompting protests on social media, with a number of users asking why cigarettes were given preference over toiletries and other necessities.

Laurence Todd, the director of research and development at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, sees something good coming out of the exemption. He predicted a dent in the contraband cigarette market.

He said the black market had been growing with every rise in cigarette prices.

However, speaking from another perspective, he said the reasons for some SST exemptions weren’t clear.

“Although price reductions will be welcomed, the number of different exemptions and rate reductions will increase the complexity of the system, creating risks for compliance and enforcement.”