PETALING JAYA: A proposal to increase cigarette prices from RM17 to RM21.50 per pack will only boost the country’s illegal cigarette trade, says the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), a local think tank.
Although the suggestion showed the health department’s good intentions, IDEAS chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said it would only “encourage illegal activities without reducing the number of smokers”.
“The government itself has said that demand for cigarettes in Malaysia is inelastic.
“Just visit the Ministry of Health’s official anti-smoking campaign website and you will find that they themselves say Malaysian smokers are not very responsive to changes in price, and even though they have imposed higher taxes, the decrease in smoking is still slight.
“This is the ministry itself saying that the higher tax strategy does not work,” he said in a statement today.
Two days ago, Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahaya announced the 27% price increase as one of the measures the government was taking to get more Malaysians to quit, following the failure of its anti-smoking campaigns and the creation of no-smoking zones in public areas.
Other steps were to raise the minimum age to buy cigarettes to 21, and the introduction of plain packaging to make cigarette packets less attractive, The Star reported.
But Wan Saiful said if cigarette prices were raised, smokers would simply turn to cheaper alternatives.
“Today, one out of every two packs sold in Malaysia is illegal. From 2003 to 2013, the illegal tobacco market grew by 46%, and this is parallel to increases of tobacco taxes,” he said.
“I am worried that by doing this, the government is indirectly helping to fund criminals and gangsters. ”
Wan Saiful added that the best way to reduce smoking was to make cigarette alternatives available and to ramp up educational activities.
First published in freemalaysiatoday.com