M'sian smokers turning to contraband cigarettes following price rise

FERNANDO FONG

KUALA LUMPUR: Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani said today that the illicit cigarette trade is on the rise following the government’s raising of cigarette prices through higher excise duties.

He said the duties, which have pushed cigarette prices up to RM17 per pack, were meant to discourage people from smoking.

However, smokers are now turning to contraband tobacco, which are mostly smuggled in from neighbouring countries.

Black market cigarettes cost between just RM3 and RM5 per pack, which means that even students can afford them, Johari said.

Johari highlighted the fact that illicit cigarettes are more dangerous than legal ones, as their tar and nicotine content is unknown, and they may also contain other dangerous chemicals at higher-than-permitted levels.

He said the government is determined to reduce the supply of low cost, contraband tobacco and aims to lower the smoking rate in the country.

“The Customs Department will introduce harsher penalties against those who sell illicit cigarettes, which could be tabled in the next Parliamentary session,” he said.

Johari, who is also the Titiwangsa MP, said the illicit cigarette trade is hard to clamp down on as shopkeepers hide their contraband stash and only sell them to trusted, regular customers.

He also appealed to smokers to think about the consequences of their habit.

"Smoking affects your health, as well as costs money. If you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, this is equivalent to 'burning’ as much as RM500 a month, or RM6,000 a year,” he told reporters after launching a campaign to reduce cigarette consumption and helping smokers quit.

During the event, which was held at Kampung Pandan here today, Johari encouraged smokers who want to quit to use nicotine gum and the nicotine patch to help reduce their withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings, thus increasing the likelihood of quitting.

He added that smokers also affect the people around them through second-hand smoke, increasing their risk of developing health complications.