Consumer advocates call for tobacco tax reforms as illicit sales boom

The Consumer Choice Centre says black market cigarettes have captured 60% of the market in Malaysia. (Bernama pic)

KUALA LUMPUR: Global consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Centre (CCC) has warned that the sale and purchase of smuggled cigarettes — which can cost only a third of the price of the legal stuff — will continue to grow barring changes to local tobacco taxes.

In a statement, CCC said black market cigarettes had captured 60% of the market, which caters to an estimated five million smokers in Malaysia.

Fred Roeder, managing director of CCC, called the volume of cigarette smuggling “phenomenal”, adding that their popularity is driven primarily by their low prices.

“Our observation indicates demand for smuggled cigarettes is high because these illegal products are sold as cheap as RM5 (a packet). So, it is no surprise that these cheap smuggled cigarettes have a big demand.

“Smokers may think cheaper and untaxed products are beneficial, especially now when money is tight following the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

CCC claims these illegal cigarettes may often contain up to three times the legal limit of nicotine and tar, which has financial implications on smokers in the long term.

Smuggled cigarettes also cost the government RM5 billion in uncollected tax revenue.

Roeder believes the government should consider tax and price reforms for tobacco products as lower prices for legal cigarettes would reduce demand for contraband.

The illicit cigarette trade is not unique to Malaysia. New Zealand authorities recently nabbed a Malaysian man who attempted to smuggle 2.2 million cigarettes worth NZ$2.72 million (RM7.7 million) into the country.

He faces charges under the Customs & Excise Act.