Another tobacco firm slams health ministry’s inconsistency

JTI Malaysia managing director Cormac O’Rourke says the health ministry should focus on the issue of illicit cigarettes.

PETALING JAYA: JTI Malaysia says it shares the concerns of its competitor, British American Tobacco (BAT), about the interpretation and enforcement of laws on tobacco products.

This comes in the wake of BAT’s filing of a judicial review against the health ministry on its decision to recategorise the former’s mini-cigars, known as cigarillos, as a cigarette and the revocation of its approval to sell the cigarillos as a non-cigarette tobacco product.

Commenting on BAT’s judicial review, JTI Malaysia managing director Cormac O’Rourke said the root of the problem was the inconsistent interpretation of the law, particularly the Control of Tobacco Products Regulation 2004.

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

O’Rourke said while the definition itself was clear, the judicial review would raise questions as to how this definition should apply to other tobacco products in the market which “equally fulfill all limbs of the definition of a cigarette”.

“The ministry cannot be selective when interpreting and enforcing its own laws. Where a product fulfils the definition of a cigarette, it should be regulated as such, consistently and across the board.”

He also called on the ministry to focus on the issue of illicit cigarettes which represent 65% of all cigarettes consumed in the country.

Recently, BAT Malaysia managing director Erik Stoel said they were” baffled” that other legal cigarillos in the market were not part of any enforcement action.

He said only the cigarillos under BAT were the focus of the authorities’ raids and that this highlighted the inconsistency in the ministry’s application of its policies.

“This product was approved as a non-cigarette not only by the health ministry for sale a year ago but also by the Royal Malaysian Customs.

“Revoking it unilaterally without any chance of consultation is against any reasonable expectation of a legal business, let alone a public-listed company like us,” he said in a statement in explaining the rationale for the judicial review.

Previously, the Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health (MyWATCH) called on Putrajaya to come up with an umbrella law for all tobacco and tobacco-related products to plug loopholes in existing regulations.

This came after concerns were raised by health groups that heat-not-burn (HNB) smoking products and mini-cigars were being exempted from regulations governing cigarettes as they were not defined as cigarettes.