Higher prices won’t stop smoking, alternatives will

THERE have been calls to raise duties and taxes on cigarettes yet again. A senior lecturer wrote how we should increase the price of a pack of cigarettes to RM50.

What is the senior lecturer smoking? Is it legal? And more importantly where can I buy it?

Any thought of raising the price of cigarettes needs to be stubbed out right now.

An increase in cigarette taxes will neither increase government revenue nor reduce smoking. It will only contribute to the increase of illicit cigarettes which already make up more than half of the cigarettes sold in the country.

There was a ridiculous debate on whether or not to allow the introduction of smaller packs to combat this menace.

While NGOs and even the Health Ministry were busy opposing this proposal with petitions, having intellectuals speaking out and even to the point of having their doctors take to social media in a campaign against "kiddie packs", something happened – the illicit cigarette traders introduced the 10-pack cigarettes!

A Malay newspaper reported on Oct 6 that these kiddie packs are already being sold for as little as RM2 and RM2.50.

Thus, due to the wise and thoughtful arguments over the smaller packs, we now see the illicit market moving faster than our government and the tobacco industry.

Thanks to all the discussions on kiddie packs, the illicit cigarette traders have taken this idea to town.

Will raising taxes and duties to the point where a cigarette pack costs RM50 do anything to stem people from opting for something priced between RM2 and 2.50?

Are we so blind to understand the implications of illicit kiddie packs priced at RM2 and subsequently increasing taxes on cigarettes?

As a result, more teenagers are able to buy illicit cigarettes that are cheaper than drinks sold at a tea stall. It's even cheaper than some brands of mineral water.

What we need is not an increase in taxes but to re-look the availability of less harmful alternatives – electronic cigarettes and the like, which have been found to be 95% less harmful.

E-cigarettes and other such devices have been found to be effective at weaning people off smoking and as a result have been promoted as part of this year's Stoptober in the United Kingdom.

As highlighted by BBC, the campaign throughout October has helped 1.5 million smokers kick the habit since 2012. Vaping was featured in their month-long anti-smoking campaign.

The need for such an alternative is becoming more urgent. This is because the menace of illicit cigarettes in is so huge that enforcement alone may not be sufficient to weed out illicit cigarettes.

In fact, those in the Health Ministry and NGOs are happy to pass the buck to Customs rather than acknowledge the illicit market as an issue that has contributed to the prevalence of smoking among the youth.

Will we still delay while more young people take up smoking to their long-term detriment?

If so, then the next generation of smokers with health issues will be on the collective conscience of the government and the NGOs, for failing to offer less harmful alternatives.

Perhaps all the ministries involved, our leaders, and even the NGOs tackling health issues can share with us where they are in getting the necessary laws passed for such less harmful alternatives?

Is the Health Ministry unaware of the rational policy of reducing harm whenever possible?

Hafidz Baharom
Kuala Lumpur