The Star Malaysia

restrict sale of cigarettes by licensing retailers

- MARY ASSUNTA Tobacco control advocate Kuala Lumpur

I WISH to respond to Concerned Citizen’s letter “Tackle the trade in illicit cigarettes as well,” ( The Star, June 30). Concerned Citizen, while conscienti­ous in raising the problem of smuggling of cigarettes, provides a skewed view, however. In fact, Concerned Citizen’s views echo point-by-point the tobacco industry’s views on the problem.

Concerned Citizen quotes from a recent Universiti Malaya study on five brands that showed the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in illicit cigarettes exceeded the limit imposed on legal cigarettes. However, the public is not told that this study was funded by the largest tobacco company operating in Malaysia.

The implicit message of this industry-sponsored study is that legal cigarettes are “safer”. That is simply not true because legal cigarettes contain about 7,000 chemical compounds, many of which are carcinogen­s. Tobacco use is responsibl­e for about 11,000 deaths every year. This is a tragedy as these deaths are preventabl­e.

While illegal cigarettes are widely available, Concerned Citizen failed to mention just how easily legal cigarettes are accessible throughout the country. According to news reports, there are about 80,000 retail outlets selling legal cigarettes. The Health Ministry is right in being concerned about this extraordin­ary accessibil­ity to legal cigarettes at these 80,000 outlets and is aiming to reduce this astonishin­g number.

According to the Health Ministry, there are 4.7 million smokers in Malaysia. When you apply the ratio of this to the 80,000 retail outlets selling cigarettes, there are about 170 retailers to every 10,000 smokers – extraordin­ary access for legal cigarettes.

On the other hand, the physician:population ratio is in dire straits. There are only about seven physicians for every 10,000 population. Having 80,000 outlets selling cigarettes is ridiculous for a product that is the number one killer in the country.

About 50 children start smoking every day in Malaysia. If Concerned Citizen is truly concerned about young people taking up smoking, then he/she should also be concerned about accessibil­ity of legal cigarettes near schools.

An effective way to tackle the easy accessibil­ity is to license retailers to sell cigarettes, as Thailand, Singapore and Brunei have done. This way, retailers located near schools will not be issued licences. Retailers caught selling smuggled cigarettes should lose their tobacco licence.

A more long-term solution to address tobacco smuggling is to ratify the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. Malaysia actively participat­ed in the negotiatio­ns of the Protocol and adopted the text in 2012.

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