Retailers to petition government for return of smaller cigarette packs

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 6, 2017.

Ho Su Mong

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KUALA LUMPUR: About 40,000 sundry goods merchants and coffee shop owners have signed a petition calling on the government to have smaller packs of cigarettes reintroduced as they believe it will help to address the illicit cigarette trade problem and reduce cigarette consumption in the country.

According to Malaysia-Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors’ General Association (MSCSPGA) president Ho Su Mong (pic), retailers across Malaysia have seen sales of legal cigarettes dropped by more than half since 2011, after smaller than 20-stick packs of cigarettes were banned from sale in 2010. “It has been a challenge for retailers to combat the growing illicit tobacco trade — now close to 60% of the overall cigarette market. [That’s because] the 20-stick packs cost much more than the illegal cigarette brands,” he told a media conference yesterday.

Ho said MSCSPGA, along with three other associations the Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners’ Association (Primas), the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) and the Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants Association of Malaysia, are calling on the government to support the introduction of 10-stick cigarette packs. The four associations signed a petition addressed to the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, seeking for the 10-stick packs of cigarettes to be introduced.

Ho said the associations are of the view that the illicit cigarette trade issue has become so big, law enforcement alone is not enough to tackle it. Additional measures need to be taken to stop the growth of the illegal market, he added.

Affordability has been the main consideration for consumers, Ho said. “There is no point having policies that benefit illegal cigarettes and to think that enforcement is the only way to address the problem. The government needs to think of other options to address this massive problem.

“Everyday, there are people, especially those in the middle- and lower-income groups, who buy illegal cigarettes because legal cigarettes have become too expensive. Therefore, smaller packs give smokers of illegal cigarettes a real legal choice.”

The legal cigarettes are now sold at RM12 to RM17 per pack of 20 sticks.  Illegal cigarettes cost RM3 to RM5. However, tobacco companies are proposing to introduce the sale of 10-stick cigarette packs, likely to be at least half the price per stick of a pack of 20 sticks.

Primas president Muthusamy Thirumeni said if the proposal to introduce 10-stick packs were approved, its impact will be almost immediate. “If it is approved and introduced, we should see about 10% to 15% reduction in the overall illicit trade, but this also depends on the level of enforcement by the government against the illegal market. The Royal Malaysian Customs’ enforcement efforts also need to be ramped up,” he added.

 “To immediately address the problem, the 10-stick packs would be the [best way to go], but this does not have to be a permanent solution. We should give this proposal a try for a few years and the government can review this proposal again after that.”

Presma president Ayoob Khan Muhamad Yakub said a legal 10-stick pack will give smokers a chance to reduce the amount of cigarettes lit per day. “Smokers tend to finish 20 sticks of cigarettes because that is the only size of cigarette packs now. In our view, a 10-stick pack will give smokers an option to change their smoking habit and reduce the amount of cigarettes lit per day. This will also encourage some retailers that have been selling illegal cigarettes to switch back to legal cigarettes.”