STUBBING OUT TO­BACCO USE

Stud­ies show that higher to­bacco tax can re­duce the num­ber of smok­ers. With the gov­ern­ment’s plan to raise cig­a­rette price from an av­er­age of RM17 to RM21.50 per pack, the coun­try could earn an es­ti­mated RM6.2 bil­lion an­nu­ally while re­duc­ing smok­ing preva

New Straits Times - - News -

TO­BACCO use is one of the big­gest pub­lic health threats in the world, killing about six mil­lion peo­ple an­nu­ally through to­bacco-re­lated dis­eases. Un­less ur­gent ac­tion is taken, it will claim an es­ti­mated eight mil­lion or more lives by 2030.

With this in mind, gov­ern­ments around the world are push­ing for tougher anti-to­bacco mea­sures to re­duce smok­ing preva­lence.

In Malaysia, smok­ing-re­lated death ac­counts for about 20 per cent of all deaths an­nu­ally and more than 15 per cent of to­tal hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions were the re­sult of smok­ing-re­lated ill­nesses.

The Na­tional Health Mor­bid­ity Sur­vey 2015 re­vealed that about five mil­lion or

22.8 per cent of the Malaysian pop­u­la­tion aged 15 and above were smok­ers.

Malaysia took the bold move of set­ting two goals: to re­duce smok­ing preva­lence to 15 per cent or less by 2025 and to achieve a smoke-free Malaysia (less than five per cent smok­ing preva­lence) by 2045, as stated in the Na­tional Strate­gic Plan for To­bacco Con­trol 2015-2020.

Global health ex­perts, the Health Min­istry and health economists be­lieve that in­creas­ing to­bacco tax is the way for­ward.

Cou­pled with other mea­sures, such as plain pack­ag­ing for cig­a­rette packs, ban­ning to­bacco ad­ver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tions at point-of sale as well as strin­gent en­force­ment, this could curb to­bacco

use.

Nev­er­the­less, it has been ar­gued that in­creas­ing cig­a­rette taxes would lead to a larger il­licit cig­a­rette mar­ket, as some smok­ers may turn to cheaper il­licit cig­a­rettes be­cause of higher le­gal cig­a­rette prices.

Health direc­tor-gen­eral Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Ab­dul­lah dis­missed the claim that a higher tax rate was the main de­ter­mi­nant of the il­licit cig­a­rette trade, say­ing it was not fully sup­ported by em­pir­i­cal stud­ies.

“In­creas­ing to­bacco tax is one of the most ef­fec­tive in­ter­ven­tions to re­duce to­bacco use. Malaysia signed the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO) Frame­work Con­ven­tion on To­bacco Con­trol (FCTC) in 2003, and it was raten­forced ified and in 2005.

“As a party to WHO FCTC, Malaysia is com­mit­ted to achiev­tar­get, ing the set which is that 75 per cent of the cig­a­rette price should con­sti­tute tax,” he told the

Dr Noor Hisham said the proin­crease posal to tax to curb to­con­sump­tion bacco was sup­port­with ed by sci­ence, stud­ies showwas ing that it ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing smok­ing con­sump­tion and preva­lence.

This, he said, was ev­i­dent in a study by the Health Min­istry and Univer­siti Pu­tra Malaysia (UPM), ti­tled “The re­la­tion­ships be­tween to­bacco tax­a­tion and de­mand dere­duce ter­mi­nants to cig­a­rettes con­sump­tion and smok­ing pre­vaMalaysia” lence in (2016).

Dr Noor Hisham said many coun­tries had im­ple­mented strong to­bacco tax poli­cies, which had re­duced to­bacco use with­out lead­ing to an in­crease in cig­a­rette smug­gling.

“For ex­am­ple, be­tween 2000 and 2014, cig­a­rette prices had more than dou­bled in the United Kingdom due to an in­crease in ex­cise tax, but smok­ing preva­lence and il­licit trade de­creased and to­bacco ex­cise rev­enues in­creased.

“In Malaysia, a con­tin­u­ous in­crease in the ex­cise tax from 2012 to 2014 showed a re­duc­tion in the con­sump­tion of le­gal cig­a­rettes but the con­sump­tion of il­licit cig­a­rettes re­mained al­most at the same level.”

Dr Noor Hisham also said the re­duc­tion in smok­ing con­sump­tion and preva­lence would re­duce smok­ing-re­lated dis­eases, which would cut the costs of treat­ing these dis­eases.

In 2010, he said the gov­ern­ment had spent some RM3 bil­lion for the treat­ment of three main smok­ing-re­lated dis­eases: coro­nary heart dis­ease, lung cancer, and chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­eases.

He said while the Con­trol of To­bacco Prod­ucts Reg­u­la­tions (CTPR) 2004 reg­u­lated le­gal and il­licit cig­a­rettes, the main gov­ern­ment agen­cies for op­ti­mis­ing to­bacco taxes and im­prov­ing con­trol on il­licit cig­a­rettes were the Fi­nance Min­istry and Cus­toms Depart­ment.

“The Cus­toms Depart­ment has made tremen­dous ef­fort and is look­ing to strengthen con­trol of il­licit cig­a­rettes, such as smug­gling, dis­tri­bu­tion and sales ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Be­sides re­in­forc­ing border con­trol, other to­bacco-con­trol mea­sures must also be strength­ened to pro­duce an over­all ef­fect.”

Dr Noor Hisham ac­knowl­edged that the gov­ern­ment al­ways faced chal­lenges in im­ple­ment­ing poli­cies con­cern­ing to­bacco con­trol, in­clud­ing “in­dus­try in­ter­fer­ence, ei­ther glob­ally or lo­cally”.

Other chal­lenges in­cluded lim­ited re­sources for to­bacco con­trol ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial and hu­man re­sources, and the in­tro­duc­tion of new to­bacco prod­ucts, such as elec­tronic cig­a­rettes and shisha.

“These new prod­ucts may in­fer a per­cep­tion of ‘safety’ for us­ing to­bacco prod­ucts. We are also work­ing on de-nor­mal­is­ing the smok­ing cul­ture in Malaysia to in­stil no-smok­ing as the life­style choice into adults and youth.

“Agen­cies should not look at to­bacco prod­ucts as a nor­mal trade prod­uct but in­stead recog­nise it as an in­fe­rior good that causes pre­ma­ture deaths.”

Deputy Health Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Ya­haya had, in March, an­nounced plans to in­crease cig­a­rette prices from RM17 to RM21.50 a packet to de­ter smok­ing among Malaysians, es­pe­cially youth.

Health direc­tor-gen­eral Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Ab­dul­lah

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