PETALING JAYA: Anti-smoking advocates believe increasing cigarette prices will help combat smoking but coffee shop operators are concerned that the move may affect their business.
Studies have shown that hiking cigarette prices deter new smokers or help reduce the number of smokers, former Malaysia Council for Tobacco Control president Dr Molly Cheah said.
For this to be effective, the retail price and tax on cigarettes must increase significantly.
“Cigarettes must have a tax rate of at least 70% of the retail prices, as per the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations to combat tobacco use,” she said.
WHO stated that on average a 10% price increase on a cigarette pack is expected to reduce demand for cigarettes by 4% in high income countries, and by 5% in low and middle income countries.
Asthma Malaysia co-founder Dr Helmy Haja Mydin lauded the move to increase cigarette prices as there was evidence that it would discourage smokers.
He said the smoking ban in public places would discourage smoking, adding that it should apply to any recreational activity that could release dangerous substances into the air, including vaping.
However, he said measures to nudge smokers towards quitting should be balanced with efforts to increase treatment options for smoking.
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said the government should also look into discouraging sales of loose cigarettes.
“Youths don’t buy by the pack as they can’t afford it. Instead they buy by sticks so maybe single stick sales should be discouraged,” she said.
However, eatery owners said their business would be affected by the hike in cigarette prices as well as the increase in minimum purchasing age for alcohol.
Petaling Jaya Coffee Shop Association president Cheah Poo Kuang said such price increases without discussion with stakeholders such as tobacco companies and vendors was “chaotic” for business.
“I don’t know how much the price will go up,” Cheah said, noting that the prices for cigarettes had risen when the Sales and Service Tax (SST) came into effect on Sept 1.
In September, he added, industry and vendor representatives met with the Finance Ministry about the issue of cigarette price increases.
“If it continues to go up, our business will be affected as well, smokers are going to start going to illegal sellers,” said Cheah.
As for vendors having to place signages that only those 21 and above are allowed to buy alcohol, Cheah said the issue was discussed with the Health Ministry last year.
However, Malaysia-Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors General Association president Datuk Ho Su Mong criticised the new age limit for the purchasing of alcohol beverages, calling it contradictory.
“They can lower the voting age to 18 but you’re not mature enough to buy alcohol,” he said.