Malaysia: Exposed – TI attempt to bring back kiddie packs

25 August 2017:

Sale of kiddie packs (less than 20 sticks) has been outlawed in Malaysia since 2010. However, the tobacco industry is trying to roll-back this ban surreptitiously. While the proposal has not been made public, health NGOs received news of the plan.

Apparently, the tobacco industry is peddling the argument that bringing back kiddie packs will reduce the high smuggling incidence in Malaysia. Industry funded research on illicit trade in tobacco in Malaysia routinely show high figures, which now stands at 56%. This is a convenient figure for the tobacco industry and its front groups to cite in their opposition to tax increases.

NGOs who heard about this strange kiddie pack proposal condemned it soundly. The President of the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), Dr Molly Cheah, said, “We want to know which ministry is proposing the agenda and for what purpose.” She added, the government should not back-pedal on its policy and asked where is the evidence that the kiddie pack proposal will be effective to counter illicit cigarettes.

The Director-General of the Customs Department was quick to respond that no such proposal came from his department to bring back kiddie packs.

The ban on kiddie pack has a long and checkered history in Malaysia. They were banned in September 2004 and legislated in the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations (Amended 2004). However, the tobacco industry lobbied successfully to get the implementation of the ban postponed by six years, to 1 June 2010.

Nearing the 1 June 2010 deadline, BAT lobbied the government and the then Health Minister announced in May the implementation of the ban has been postponed again. However, this time the tobacco companies themselves, Philip Morris (M) Bhd and JT International Bhd, opposed the postponement and even threatened legal action against the government. Their argument then was that they had sold off their machines that make the small packs. About 40% of BAT Malaysia’s sales came from kiddie packs. In fact, BAT continued to sell its 14-sticks packs even after the ban was enforced.

Now, after 7 years, the tobacco industry in Malaysia is resurrecting kiddie packs.

However, this time the Ministry of Health has been by-passed in this ploy because of their strong position on tobacco control. Health Minister, Dr. S. Subramaniam told a newspaper that the ministry would not give approval for the sale of such packs as the law prohibits the sale of cigarettes in packs of less than 20 sticks. He said, “They [tobacco companies] do not determine our policies. They are just pushing for things that they have interests in too [sic].”

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.”

BAT, JT International and Philip Morris control 98% of cigarette sales in Malaysia. All three companies have ceased cigarette production locally and import cigarette packs into Malaysia. In recent years, all three companies have increased their presence and business in Indonesia and Philippines. Both these countries still allow kiddie packs. 

In the ASEAN region, six countries besides Malaysia have banned kiddie packs – Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.