Malaysia: Tobacco control is looking good in 2016

2016 will be a bleak year for tobacco in Malaysia, according to a report in theEdge Financial Daily. Analysts forecast a decline in tobacco volume following the 40% excise tax increase last month. According to analysts the pricing of cigarettes has now gone above the ‘pain threshold’.

Smoking prevalence among adults is on the decline and the number of smokers stands around 4.7 million, although teen smokers remains relatively high. Tobacco control has turned a corner in Malaysia with the government committed to reducing tobacco use and implementing stringent measures according to the tobacco Convention, the FCTC. A substantial excise tax increase is part of the government’s effort towards this end.

The battle to regulate e-cigarettes is raging with the vape traders and vaping community getting more aggressive. The Health Ministry is standing firm in implementing the Poisons Act classifies nicotine as a Group C Poison that can only be sold as “dispensed medicine”. Vape merchants are defiant in breaking the law and the first e-liquid seller has been charged under the Poison Act in the state of Kelantan.

Recently Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council, which delivers religious rulings, has declared the use of electronic cigarettes as haram (forbidden) for Muslims. However vape traders and vapers seem unfazed by the announcement. Vaping is now banned in four states in Malaysia – Penang, Kelantan, Kedah and Johor. In 1995 the Fatwa Council decreed smoking to be forbidden.

Indonesia pays heavy price for being tobacco friendly

The National Social Economic Survey (Susenas) and the Basic Health Research (Riskesdas) agencies have revealed that cigarette consumption by teenage girls has increased tenfold over the last two decades and more than a twofold increase among teenage boys.

This data clearly illustrates how teenagers are an attractive and important market for the tobacco industry. According to Abdillah Hasan, Deputy Chairman of Demography Institute- University of Indonesia, teenagers need to be protected from the dangers of smoking through measures such as cigarette price increases, applying large pictorial health warning on packs, banning cigarette advertisement and sponsorship, and providing more smoking-free public spaces.

World Health Organization (WHO)’s Tobacco-Free Initiative Representative, Dina Kania said that Indonesia’s failure to accede to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has left the country unprotected and vulnerable to interference from the international tobacco industry. The foreign tobacco industry has influenced the country’s policy makers, as reflected in the draft tobacco bill being fast-tracked in the national priority of legislation for 2016 in the House of Representatives.

Last month Indonesia signed a pact with Philip Morris International for almost US$2 Billion to increase its investment in the country – a move which is in the opposite direction compared to the rest of the world. Unfortunately a plea from Indonesian civil society to their president “not to sell his people to big tobacco” went unheeded. With tobacco killing two out of every three smokers prematurely, Indonesia will have to brace itself for more deaths. A change in political will is much needed.

As 2015 comes to a close, SEATCA sends Christmas greetings and wishes all partners a productive 2016.

For information on TI denormalization, check out SEATCA’s Tobacco Industry Watch website

Previous ASEAN Tobacco Watch updates can be found here.