Health ministry to investigate open sale of ‘mini-cigars’ in Sabah, Sarawak

The ‘100%’ tobacco product being sold at a sundry shop in Kota Kinabalu.

PETALING JAYA: The health ministry will look into the sale of “mini-cigars” in East Malaysia using the brand of a prominent tobacco company which are believed to be smuggled or illicit as they do not bear any tax stamp by the Customs Department.

Advertised as 100% tobacco, these mini-cigars are being openly sold in sundry shops for RM9 for a box of 20 sticks.

FMT was alerted to the sale of the tobacco product by a reader in Kota Kinabalu who said they were “not as smooth” to smoke as regular cigarettes although attractively priced.

A box of 20 normal cigarettes typically costs RM17.50.

Aside from lacking a Customs Department tax stamp, the mini-cigar packs do not bear any health pictorial warnings.

“As a general rule, all legal cigarettes are subject to regulations under the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004,” Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye told FMT.

He added that he would check with the Customs Department on the matter.

Under the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004, a cigarette is defined as “any product which consists wholly or partly of cut, shredded or manufactured tobacco, or of any tobacco derivative or substitute, rolled up in a single or more wrapper of paper, and which is capable of being immediately used for smoking”.

Think tank Galen Centre for Health and Public Policy said if the mini-cigars were illicit, then retailers and distributors there were brazenly defying efforts by the authorities to curb the sale of illegal tobacco.

“It is a clear example of the problem recently highlighted, where six out of every 10 cigarettes sold in the country are illegal,” Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib told FMT.

The mini-cigar bears the branding of a prominent tobacco company.

“It is obvious from the lack of graphic health warnings and the significant price difference between these mini-cigars and conventional cigarettes, that the existence and sale of this tobacco product is taking advantage of existing loopholes in tobacco control and enforcement.”

He referred to a 2017 study published in the Nicotine and Tobacco Research journal which compared nicotine delivery in “small” or “filtered” cigars against conventional cigarettes.

The study found that cigars could be just as harmful and addictive and contain just as much, if not more, nicotine than cigarettes, he said.

“The open sale of these mini-cigars is in defiance of the government’s tobacco stance and ongoing anti-smoking campaign.”

Azrul said this latest development presents an opportunity for the government to review and update all existing tobacco control laws to close any possible loopholes.

“It also adds to building the case and support for a stand-alone Tobacco Control Act, as recently shared by Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad.”

Galen, alongside other health groups, recently called for heat-not-burn products to be treated like cigarettes as well, saying they too fall under the definition of a cigarette.

FMT’s attempts to contact the tobacco company for comment were unsuccessful.