MP SPEAKS | The word that comes to my mind is contradiction. Let me explain.
In February this year the government was committed to reducing smoking among Malaysians. It moved to increase banned locations for smoking.
A few days ago, there came talk that smaller, 10-stick cigarette packets, or ‘kiddie packs’, will be sold to combat the sale of illegal tobacco.
However, this move, will only encourage the sales of cigarettes, which would become much more affordable, even for students, young adults and women.
But to address the affordability of cigarettes, especially to lower income persons and youths, the Malaysian government introduced the Minimum Price Law (MPL) in 2010, in conjunction with a ban on selling cigarettes in packs of less than 20 sticks.
Last year, the Health Ministry told Parliament that the government plans to introduce plain-packaging on cigarette packets as a way of reducing smoking in the country, a move successfully adopted in countries such as Australia and Uruguay.
But the government received brickbats from big tobacco companies following the announcement and the policy was shelved.
This time around, tobacco lobbyists have bypassed the Health Ministry altogether, earning the wrath of its director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah, who has been reported as being against the sales of ‘kiddie packs’.
Instead of pandering to the whims of tobacco lobbyists, the government must consult all stakeholders, including the Health Ministry, anti-tobacco lobbyists and schools, to weigh in on the sales of ‘kiddie packs’.
If these smaller packs come to be on sale, it would again demonstrate that tobacco lobbyists are determining government policy, questioning the sovereignty of policy making in the country - and allowing tobacco corporations to influence tobacco control policies that violate the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which Malaysia is a signatory.
In fact, Article 16 of the FCTC explicitly states that “each party shall endeavour to prohibit the sale of cigarettes individually or in small packets, which increases the affordability of such products to minors”.
Combatting the sales of counterfeit cigarettes, illicit tobacco trade and cigarette smuggling require the government to up its enforcement initiatives, including increasing regional security cooperation and tightening border security.
Allowing tobacco companies to use sophisticated and devious tactics, such as the sales of ‘kiddie packs’ to challenge, discredit, weaken, obstruct and delay the implementation of effective tobacco control measures, including lobbying governments, won’t do the trick.
The tobacco industry doesn’t tire from coming up with innovative ideas to capitalise on some 125 million smokers in the Asean region, from whom it reaps its profits. And it is seeking more smokers among Asia’s young.
But in response, the Malaysian government’s conviction to stick to tobacco control policies and reduce smoking doesn’t seem to go deeper than the bottom of a soup bowl.
This is outrageous!
As such, any plan to sell ‘kiddie packs’ must be scrapped for good. Or the government and the cabinet would fail to show that their priority is to protect lives.
CHARLES SANTIAGO is the Member of Parliament for Klang.