PETALING JAYA: Several groups have called for new measures to stem the spread of fake and smuggled alcohol due to the “harmful effects” it can have on consumer health and the economy.
Fake alcohol is typically sold as a branded product, but instead contains alcohol of a much lower quality and has been linked to blindness and death in the past due to the frequent addition of harmful fillers like methanol.
Smuggled alcohol, much like illegally trafficked cigarettes, is brought into Malaysia by syndicates who undercut the legal market while still making a healthy profit.
Shaun Cheah, executive director at the Malaysian International Chamber Of Commerce and Industry, told FMT that the illicit alcohol business cost legitimate operators upwards of RM2 billion in lost revenue every year.
“Malaysia has one of the world’s highest taxes on alcoholic beverages. Due to the high taxes, it’s lucrative to have fake or smuggled products in the market.”
He claimed that even though the low prices might appeal to consumers, purchasing smuggled alcohol could aid the “funding of criminal activities or terrorism”.
Albert Chooi, secretary of two trade groups, said that as fakes become more visually convincing, “the buyer often can’t tell if what they’re buying is real or not, which is a problem. And because it’s cheaper, a lot of people just buy it without thinking.”
Chooi is secretary of the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Wine and Spirit Chinese Dealer’s Association and Associated Liquor Merchants Association of the Federation of Malaya.
NV Subbarow, an education officer with the Consumers Association of Penang, said because of the low price, illicit alcohol tended to be most prevalent in poorer communities.
“It is the construction workers and the foreign workers, those who don’t have the money, who are going to be attracted by these cheap prices.”
Subbarow added that even youths could be lured by fakes, saying “we’ve seen issues with kids as young as 15 who’ve already begun drinking”.
Chooi said lower alcohol taxes to reduce the price gap between fake and real alcohol would help make counterfeit products less appealing.
“The alcohol tax is very high in this country, and if it’s too high consumers will obviously turn elsewhere.”
Cheah called for better detection equipment at entry points and the use of analytics to pick up suspicious import patterns at the border as a solution to smuggling.
In the case of fake alcohol, he said that the sale of raw materials such as methanol must be closely monitored and that those caught selling it should be imprisoned.