Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

Plain packaging laws for cigarettes – Malaysia should emulate Australian move immediately!

Australia became the first country in the world to introduce plain packaging laws for cigarettes in July 2011. A month before it could even get that Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 legislated, the Asian arm of Philip Morris demanded compensation from Australia.

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Under the Act which would be implemented throughout Australia by December 2012, cigarette packages would no longer be able to display any logos or use different colours. Olive green is the standardised colour for all cigarette packs and, health warnings will replace manufacturer’s brands.

Undaunted, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that she would not be intimidated by the tobacco companies.

Australian Health Minister Nicola Roxon said that “the Australian people I think would expect their government, to take action in the interests of public health”.

On 15 August 2012, the Australia High Court ruled that the Act “did not breach the country's constitution”  in dismissing the move by BAT, Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris. The tobacco giants had claimed that the law represented "an acquisition of (their) property otherwise than on just terms" .

CAP applauds the courage of the Australian government in doing what is right for its citizens despite being threatened by tobacco giants. Other countries including Britain, Canada and New Zealand are considering similar actions.

Malaysia will only consider until deliberations on the matter by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global health treaty negotiated under the World Health Organization. CAP wishes urge the Malaysian government to emulate Australia’s move soonest possible. Malaysia should lead in advocating plain packs in the ASEAN region if it is sincere in preventing more than 10,000 smoking-related deaths in the country annually.

On another issue, Malaysia Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai announce on 14 August that the minimum price of all cigarette brands will be RM7 and only cigarette packs with 20 sticks can only be sold as from 1 September 2012.

CAP is befuddled by this announcement because the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations (CTPR) 2004 has already banned the manufacturing and selling of cigarette packs of less than 20 sticks. This was eight years ago!

The Minimum Cigarette Price (MCP) of being fixed at RM7 for a pack of 20 sticks is nothing new because it was implemented since October 2010 and that was two years ago. The only setback then was that the local brands flouted the law and sold their brands below the MCP but that does not mean that the regulation was not in place. The government should ensure that CTPR is being followed without any backtracking because of pressure from the tobacco industry.

Letter to the Editor - 23 August 2012