Malaysian

It’s Easy To Get Outraged About Underage Smoking, But Here’s The Real Problem

Even in my high school days, I saw classmates and even juniors sneaking out for a puff whenever they could, be it for the “cool” factor or just peer pressure. We had prefects making regular rounds around the toilet to catch people that were taking a smoke break in school. 

What hasn’t changed since I left school? Smoking among the youth was an issue and now fast forward 10 years later, it is still a problem, as you can see in this video.

The cause for concern is multiplied when 65% of the cigarettes out there in the market today are cheap contraband cigarettes. This means that these illegal and unregulated products are being smuggled into the country.

There are also reports that Malaysia is one of the largest markets when it comes to cheap ciggies. In terms of economic impact, Malaysia is also losing out on a whopping RM5 billion in tax annually due to these cigarettes.

So, what seems to be the issue for the young ones who don’t know or don’t care about the effects or rather the after-effects that smoking will bring to them? It usually boils down to a few reasons. 

Easy Access To Cheap, Contraband Ciggies

Ciggies that are cheap and readily available makes it very easy for the kids to get their hands on them. According to Oxford Economics, these cigarettes cost about RM4.50 a pack. Compare this to legal cigarettes that cost around RM15 for a pack of 20 cigarettes.

If you’re a schoolkid with a limited allowance, it’s not hard to see which you’ll choose.

A brand of cheap ciggies. / Image Credit: myhealthgov.my

But, how are they getting their hands on them in the first place?

According to a report by World Bank Group, there are a few ways to bring in these cigarettes, either through smuggling or bootlegging. Because of how cheap these ciggies are, irresponsible shops and traders are incentivised to stock up on them and sell them at a healthy profit. 

Not to mention, these shops and traders are getting low risks but high rewards in terms of profit.

In a survey done in 2016 by the Institute for Public Health with the Ministry of Health (MOH), a whopping 78.7% of the respondents tried their first cigarette before they turned 14. Smoking in teens is also rising because they have access to these cheap ciggies.

The problems with these cigarettes are that they are not regulated. Simply put, no one knows exactly what goes into these illegal, cheap contraband products, which brings us to our next point.

A Harder Enforcement Of The Policies

I do believe there needs to be harder enforcement on policies.

Contraband cigarettes don’t come with the normal health warnings that you’ll see on regulated ciggies. So, that means almost anyone can get their hands on it.

If you’re wondering who’s in charge of enforcing health warnings and the minimum price of ciggies in Malaysia? The answer is simple: MOH. 

The MOH will definitely need to take a look at their own policies and enforcement powers to keep younger children and those that have yet to know the full dangers of ciggies away from these contraband ciggies.

Cheap ciggies without any health warnings

Not The Work Of Just A Single Ministry

Of course, the job doesn’t just belong to the RMC (Royal Malaysian Customs) or the Police, both of which have stepped up and taken action and committed to conducting more enforcement actions and raids to cripple the flow of cheap, contraband cigarettes into this country.

So why isn’t MOH enforcing these laws that fall within their jurisdiction? For example, the Minimum Retail Selling Price and Pictorial Health Warnings are what they can enforce.

Instead, the Deputy Minister of Health, Lee Boon Chye just said that it falls under the RMC to tackle these contraband cigarettes and they’ll even give them time to to do so, basically pushing the ball to RMC’s court.

Now, that’s not how it should be as they could also help complement the efforts of RMC and Police by conducting their own enforcement.

It should take a concerted effort of several ministries for this to work if we wish to have a safer environment for the younger generation.

I’m not here to preach about smoking, but exposure to addictive substances at a young age comes with a lot of negative side effects, and society collectively must do better.

Studies have shown that increasing the prices of cigarettes reduces the probability of youth smoking. Removing cheap ciggies is one clear way to move towards that.

  • Did you know you can make a report to MOH if you see shops/traders selling cheap ciggies?

Featured Image Credit: A still from the video by Gerakan Anti Rokok Seludup.

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