Experts: Challenges Ahead for Malaysia’s Proposed Tobacco Sales Ban for People Born After 2005 | Malaysia

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The government’s announcement of a general ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to people born after 2005 could prove difficult. — Photo by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, February 20 – The government’s announcement of a plan to ban the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products across the board to people born after 2005 is a seemingly “puritanical” goal and could prove difficult if Alternatives to said products are also banned, economists said.

Last month, national news agency Bernama reported that Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had said the government planned to ban tobacco products, including vaping, for anyone born after 2005.

Like some other countries in the Western Pacific Regional Office (WPRO), he said Malaysia hoped to pass the law this year, to spell the generational end to smoking.

Economist and chief executive of the Center for Market Education, Carmelo Ferlito, said that while Putrajaya has set an ambitious goal, the reality on the ground and the resulting consequences vary.

Ferlito pointed out that policies that disregard the emerging social order are likely to produce a plethora of unintended consequences.

“The real point, in my view, is: what do we want to achieve? Prohibiting the consumption of nicotine in all its forms smacks of Prohibition (in reference to the constitutional ban on the production, import, transport and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933 in the United States). It sounds very puritanical,” Ferlito said. malaysian mail.

Smoking bans fail to recognize that in the analysis of externalities, two parties are involved. By “protecting” non-smokers from smokers, we are harming smokers by depriving them of their right to enjoyment. A ban is therefore discriminatory.

“Furthermore, we have evidence that bans do not stop consumption. They only move consumers towards illegal alternatives, creating opportunities for a flourishing business for smugglers. Is this what we want? The real objective should not be the cessation of consumption, which is a utopia, but the reduction of risks.

“If we are talking about pleasure consumption, as in the case of nicotine, it is much easier to convince consumers to switch to a less harmful product than to convince them to stop. Here, the key is therefore to promote less harmful initiatives, such as vaping, through incentives and in general an ecosystem conducive to innovation.

He said freedom of choice and respect for people’s pursuit of pleasure must be cornerstones of an effective harm reduction strategy.

Ferlito listed three points: using more rewards to incentivize behavior change; focus on decreasing traditional products, while minimizing restrictions and taxes related to “healthier” alternatives (vaping, non-alcoholic beer, etc.); and focus on creating an environment that drives innovation.

He added that a country that aims to be called a democracy should be respectful of individuals’ freedom of choice, with education and innovation at its heart and not “punishment”.

“Punishment, like raising taxes, has proven to be a failure as a policy, and today Malaysia has the highest market penetration of illegal products in the world. Illegal products will thrive even more, not only for traditional cigarettes, but also for vaping products,” he said.

“It would be a loss of revenue for the government, which should instead proceed with different taxation in order to promote less harmful products.”

Ferlito added that risk reduction measures would only succeed if they were accompanied by respect for freedom of choice, which, in turn, implied the need to create the conditions for the market to provide less harmful alternatives to consumers.

Better education, more awareness

One in five adults over the age of 15 smoke in Malaysia, with the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 estimating that there are around 4.7 million male smokers and over 135,000 female smokers in the country.

The prevalence of smoking is 45% or more in all age groups among men. Among adolescent males aged 15 to 19, nearly 25% smoke.

Sunway University Business School economist Professor Yeah Kim Leng said that given Malaysia’s high national smoking prevalence of between 21.3% and 40.5% of adult males and a high proportion of smokers under the legal age, the goal of reducing smoking rates more quickly would be more difficult with a complete ban.

“Prohibiting sales, limiting supply and restricting access by penalizing those who are not subject to the ban is unlikely to be effective as these activities are generally difficult to control and enforce. Such measures will lead to market black and clandestine activities that could bring greater social ills,” said the former member of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of Bank Negara Malaysia.

“More efforts should be focused on demand reduction through sustained education and awareness programs on the harmful effects of smoking. These measures will need to be backed up by well-designed support and incentive programs to quit smoking and adopt healthy lifestyles.

The Vice President of the Malaysian Economic Association (MEA) added that while the tobacco industry will see fewer cigarette sales with a corresponding reduction in industry revenue, tax collection and indirect effects on the employment, incomes and wages, the ban may not lead to a drop in consumption if circumvented, or if sales are replaced by contraband cigarettes, which would result in lost income for both those involved in the industry than for government.

Climb uphill

Founder and CEO of the Galen Center for Health and Social Policy, Azrul Mohd Khalib agreed that smoking is a problem among young people today, but added that it is still a male issue.

Azrul foresees an arduous task for Putrajaya, in achieving its ambitious goal of banning the sale of tobacco and smoking products to people born after 2005.

“It’s going to be difficult, but making this first commitment is a vital step forward in solving Malaysia’s smoking problem, which has not progressed much in the past five years.

“To see how difficult it is going to be, compare Malaysia to New Zealand, who are leading this bold approach. Adult smoking prevalence in New Zealand is 13.4%, while Malaysia is 21.3%,” he said, adding that Singapore, which is also considering the same strategy, has a smoking prevalence of about 10%.

Pursuing his goal, Azrul said Malaysia has the potential to make an unprecedented positive leap forward in tobacco control, drastically closing the door to new smokers.

“It will bring those numbers down. It’s a tough climb even for those countries, but for Malaysia it will be particularly steep,” he said. malaysian mail.

Azrul said several steps should be taken in parallel, mainly encouraged by law enforcement. This, he lamented, is where the problem lies.

“Unfortunately, based on our track record, this is where we are most likely to fail. For this policy to succeed, we must root out corruption among law enforcement officials involved in curtailing the illegal market and reduce the influx of illicit tobacco into the country,” he added.

Regarding government revenue, he did not see a drastic change in tax revenue in the first five years of the policy’s implementation.

“However, if there is a change in smoking behavior, it will likely be a shift from smoking tobacco to smoking vaping products. Thus, the tax contribution will shift towards vaping and e-cigarettes,” said Azrul.

New laws for an infallible system?

When contacted by malaysian maillawyer Fahri Azzat said new laws dealing specifically with the ban would be needed.

“The government may need to craft new laws to address prohibition-specific offenses, but it is not obligated to create a specific one for those who abet, conspire or do so with common intent” , did he declare.

Fahri also saw little or no hope that the goal would be achieved, pointing to weaknesses in supporting institutions.

“Personally, we seem to want to emulate the West regardless of our local circumstances and dynamics,” he said.

“The ban is not going to stop the culture of vaping or smoking. It will only drive it underground and the government will be deprived of taxes and will have to spend to ban access to cigarettes/vapes. The illegal gangs will now have another commodity to sell and make money in. Prohibition will not work here because our government bodies and law enforcement institutions are corrupt.

“The question that should be put to the Minister is: what exactly does he hope to get out of this from an economic, law enforcement, corruption and societal point of view?”

Lawyer Dinesh Muthal also agreed with Fahri.

“In fact, there is already a law – the Food Act 1983, Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004. There is already a maximum penalty of RM10,000 or two years imprisonment if the sale of tobacco is made to minors,” did he declare. .

“Vaping isn’t one of them because it doesn’t need tobacco, but there’s something called the Poison Act. So there are already provisions in there to ban it.

“Here, it would pretty much need a law with a focus on young people and they should probably restore the points of sale and purchase.”

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