The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) urges the government not to buckle under the tobacco industry pressure to introduce ‘kiddie packs’.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “tobacco kills a third to half of all people who use it, on average 15 years prematurely”. This is a reason important enough to stop entertaining the industry.

Under what circumstances must the government give in to the industry and its front groups comprising non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade associations such as the four national associations to advance their cause of reintroducing the 10-stick packs? There is none.

In fact Malaysia is a party to WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control since 2005 and the banning of “kiddie packs” is in line with FCTC’s Article 16. Malaysia cannot backtrack without being seen as an FCTC outcast.

Early this month, four associations – Malaysia-Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors General Association (MSCSPGA), Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas), Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma), and the Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants Association of Malaysia (FSGMAM) – declared their support for the reintroduction of ‘kiddie packs’.

We are not surprised that these associations had placed profit before the health of the people. They argued that the ban on small packs for the past 10 years had not addressed the problem of smoking among youth had not declined. Smuggling of cheap cigarettes have been blamed for the increase in smoking prevalence. However, due to the addictive nature of tobacco, the reduction of tobacco consumption can only be expected in the long-term as it will not decline drastically within the next few decades from public health efforts.

The slow decline of smoking prevalence has been used by the industry and the trade associations in wanting the government to give up its efforts that will save the health and lives of millions of Malaysians. On the contrary, the government should step up efforts in curbing smuggling activities by introducing mandatory jail sentence and confiscating the assets of those involved and mandatory jail term for those who are caught selling them.

A study in 2005 found that RM2.92 billion was spent for treating three of the commonest smoking-related diseases (cancer of the lung, ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). How are the four associations that claimed to represent 40,000 cigarette retailers nationwide explain to the families whose loved ones had died or dying from smoking-related diseases that require expensive treatment?

As for Presma, the Quran stated explicitly that anything that harms the body is haram and the injurious properties of tobacco smoke are well substantiated by scientific research, including those conducted by the industry itself. Industry documents showed that it knew about the link between smoking and cancer in early 1950s but it publicly denies this fact as a means to salvage cigarette sales.

Moreover, there is a fatwa issued in 1996 that prohibits smoking but only Selangor and Kedah have announced that smoking is haram. Many mosques are already smoke-free and Muslims are encouraged to try giving up smoking during the Puasa month. Hence, Presma should seize this opportunity and be the torchbearer of the fatwa rather than to encourage smoking.

The term ‘kiddie packs’ is a taboo word for the industry but whatever it calls these less-than-20-stick cigarette packs, the industry’s objective to replace sick and dying smokers with new crops of smokers comprising youth and women remains.

Tobacco and its products are paradoxical. Nicotine, found naturally in tobacco leaves, is highly toxic (classified as Class C poison under the Poisons Act, and the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations) and is more addictive than cocaine or heroin. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 70 cancer-causing ones, and tobacco products are certainly not food items yet they are regulated by the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations within the Food Act.

We want to reiterate our stand in the sale of cigarettes because the money spent on this addictive habit could have been used on family needs. There should be no pity for cigarette smugglers and retailers of such illicit cigarettes because they are just as guilty as those who sell addictive drugs, slowly killing the users. The health of non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke is endangered too.

Tobacco products must only be sold by licensed tobacconists, not by retailers, since tobacco products should be categorised as controlled products as they are highly addictive, kill when used as intended, and also kill passive smokers.

Letter to the Editor, 25 September 2017