Tobacco industry screaming, “Licensed to be killed off”

5 August 2016

The Tasmania’s state government has just announced its ‘Healthy Tasmania’ five-year plan which includes tripling tobacco retailers licence fees and the tobacco industry is screaming this will “kill off” the industry. This industry statement is a cruel irony considering it is the industry’s product that is responsible for killing 6 million people worldwide every year.

According to Tasmania’s government the tripling of the retailer licence fees will increase to Aus$731 (US$556) from next year and about Aus$1,100 ($761) by January 2018. The state government hopes to raise Aus$1.8million over four years where the funds will go towards a social media quit campaign, and employ more education and compliance officers.

In the ASEAN region, retailers’ tobacco license annual fees in comparison are a paltry sum: Thailand ($17), Brunei ($240) and Singapore ($288). Tobacco retailers in the rest of ASEAN countries remain unlicensed and able to sell tobacco anywhere and everywhere they please. Attempts to license tobacco retailers in these countries have been met with fierce opposition.

Most coffee shops and tea stalls sell cigarettes and provide opportunities for the tobacco companies to promote their brands. Teashops in Myanmar for example distribute paraphernalia such as complimentary napkins and ashtrays branded with cigarette logos.

The tobacco industry often mobilises retailers to fight on its behalf using ridiculous arguments. In Malaysia for example the coffee shop association has detracted from its core business of selling food and drinks in a hygienic premise and has been actively fighting tobacco licensing and plain packaging measures claiming it will affect its business.

Not licensing tobacco retailers is a lost opportunity for state governments to raise much needed funds for health campaigns to reduce tobacco use. Both Cambodia and Malaysiahave about 80,000 tobacco retailers each. Even if they charged a miniscule fee, the governments stand to raise substantial funds.

Singapore has successfully used retail licensing to curb sales to minors in that the license can be suspended or revoked as a penalty.

Other license conditions such as not selling tobacco near schools can help reduce tobacco accessibility to minors. Brunei prohibits tobacco sales within 1 km radius of schools. Licensing of retailers can also help the government monitor and control sales of smuggled cigarettes.

The WHO FCTC Articles 13 and 14 Guidelines recommend retailer licensing both for better compliance as well as to fund cessation activities respectively.

For more information on tobacco promotion at retailers see here