Petaling Jaya (The Star/ANN) - The Malaysian government's all-out anti-smoking campaign has taken off with the introduction of a new price control on cigarettes.
Effective Saturday, the minimum price of all cigarette brands was set at 7 ringgit (US$2.24). The other deterrent is only packs with 20 sticks are permitted to be sold in the market.
In the past, one could buy cigarette packets for much lower, with as few as five to seven sticks in each packet.
While lauding the new regulations to deter smoking, anti-tobacco groups said the government should continue to follow up on the campaign with more stringent measures.
The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control described the price control mechanism as not the sole yardstick to get smokers to kick the habit.
"Maybe this will mean that poor people can no longer afford certain brands but the rich will still buy cigarettes," said council chairman Dr Molly Cheah.
She urged the government to raise the ceiling price of cigarettes further.
"The usual excuse given is that it will encourage smuggling of illegal cigarettes. It is up to the Customs Department to deal with this," said the public health expert.
Cheah said although Malaysia has been a signatory to the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control since 2005, the number of smokers has increased, with the trend also affecting teenagers.
She said plain packaging on cigarette packs would also be an effective way to discourage smoking, a move that will be implemented in Australia from December 1.
Several smokers said the 7 ringgit floor price was hard on them but they would likely not quit smoking.
Retiree James, 61, spends 10 ringgit on a pack of cigarettes every day and also buys illicit cigarettes every time he goes back to Sarawak.
"Smuggled cigarettes from Vietnam are sold for as low as 2 ringgit per pack," he said.
Lawyer Choo Dee Wei, 30, said plain packaging on cigarette boxes will not sway smokers.
"People will still buy cigarettes regardless of what is on the packaging," he said.
(US$1 = 3.12 ringgit)