Focus View
Stop illicit cigarette trade, not small packs
FocusM team | 01 Sep 2017 00:30
Cigarette companies want to reintroduce small pack cigarettes. Several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are however against it. 

The government has yet to make a decision. It is worried reintroducing small packs will encourage the young to smoke. With the price of a large 20-stick pack costing up to RM17, a 10-stick pack will be more affordable.   

The tobacco companies say small packs will not encourage smoking. If there were no small packs, smokers will merely buy the bigger ones. On the other hand, they say having smaller packs will help reduce the illicit cigarette trade by 50%.  

The issue here is not so much whether small packs or big packs will encourage or deter smoking. It’s more the issue of rampant smuggling which makes illicit cigarettes much cheaper. Cigarettes are among the most smuggled items in the country as the tax imposed on them is the highest in Asean, after Singapore.   

It has been reported that smuggled cigarettes are being sold at RM3-5 for a pack of 10. So preventing small packs from being sold is not going to curb smoking among youths as they can get illicit cigarettes easily.  
 
The answer is to curb smuggling. Is it so difficult for the Customs Department to put a stop to it? Are smugglers so evasive? 

The department has a lot to gain by combating cigarette smuggling. It loses an estimated RM1.5 bil to RM2 bil revenue to the illicit cigarette trade. 

It must step up its efforts to combat smuggling even as it strives to increase revenue through the goods and services tax (GST) and other means.  

Under the Customs Act 1967, a person found in possession of illicit cigarettes can be fined up to 20 times the value of the goods and/or jailed for up to three years. 

Obviously, these penalties are not enough to deter smuggling. The fine should be higher and a jail term mandatory to show the authorities mean business. But increasing the penalties with slack enforcement will not work either.  

It is estimated some 60-70% of young people start their smoking habit with illicit cigarettes. The government should tackle the root of the problem if it wants to curb smoking among the young. 

Why bother banning small packs if illicit cigarettes are readily available? It’s the smuggling that needs to be addressed, not small packs.