Industry advocate: Emergency action required to combat illegal cigarettes in Malaysia

ADVOKASI Perusahaan dan Industri (API), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding business and industry growth, has urged the government to take emergency action to tackle the systemic illegal cigarettes problem that has curtailed economic growth and caused significant socio-economic problems for more than a decade.

API’s comments came on the back of the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) and Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) Malaysia 2023, which were released by the Government recently.

API pointed out that according to the NHMS, Malaysian adult smoking prevalence has plateaued over the past three decades with 24.8% in 1996, 21.5% (2006), 23.1% (2011), 22.8% (2015) and 21.3% (2019).

While the number of smokers remained nearly the same, GATS Malaysia had indicated nevertheless that the average amount Malaysian consumers spent on cigarettes had significantly decreased from RM13.20 in 2011 to RM10.80 in 2023. The average monthly cigarette expenditure also saw a decline from RM234 in 2011 to RM177.70 in 2023.

“While the reduction of cigarette expenditure looks good on paper, it is important to note that the reality is far from it,” commented API’s managing director Datuk Fazli Nordin.

Datuk Fazli Nordin

“Both GATS and NHMS clearly show that illegal cigarettes are rampant and well-accepted. Malaysians are not smoking less but are, in fact buying cigarettes at a cheaper price. Illegal cigarettes are well-received by Malaysians because it is much cheaper and widely available compared to legally manufactured cigarettes.”

According to Fazli, illegal cigarette prevalence in Malaysia was 55.6% in 2023. This means that six out of 10 cigarettes sold are illegal – a rate that is considered extremely high based on global standards.

“At this rate, the illegal cigarettes trade alone has caused the government to lose about RM5 bil every year in uncollected excise revenue. At the same time, this sizeable shadow economy continues to facilitate corruption at all levels of society and fund criminal activities,” asserted Fazli.

“While we see that there has been an uptick in busts and arrests made particularly by Royal Malaysian Customs and other authorities, clearly enforcement alone is not enough to curtail this problem.”

He added: “The Madani government must be bold enough to think out-of-the box and put in place more drastic or emergency measures to achieve what other governments have not done, which is to get rid of the illegal cigarettes scourge once and for all.” – May 24, 2024

Main image credit: The Star

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