Ideas CEO rubbishes tobacco industry funding

  • Nation
  • Friday, 25 Jan 2019

PETALING JAYA: A foreign report on the Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) which sta­ted that tobacco industry funding clouded its stand on tobacco controls is “incorrect and misleading”, according to its chief executive officer.

Ali Salman clarified that the body received such funding in the past but stopped taking it from 2018.

“The board, in agreement with the management, decided that Ideas would no longer accept re­search grants from the tobacco industry.

“Our position (on higher cigarette taxes) is consistent with our general position on how high taxes are bad for the business environment.

“Our editorial position is always independent of our funding,” he said yesterday.

He was responding to an “expose” in the UK-based publication The Guardian on Wednesday on free market think-tanks from, among others, Malaysia, Chile and Austra­lia as having received funding from the industry alongside governments “as they argued against tobacco controls”.

The report named Ideas as the alleged recipient in Malaysia.

Among others, the report stated: “In March 2017, Malaysia’s Health Ministry hoped to reduce that grim tally by floating a plan to sharply increase cigarette taxes as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and proposed by the Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahaya in the nation’s legislature.

“The plan would increase the price of a pack from £3.17 (RM17.11) to £3.91 (RM21.11), a significant hike of 23% – and exactly the kind of move proven to cut smoking and related illness and death, experts said. But not everyone thought this was a good idea.

“Opponents included a politically connected think-tank called Ideas.

“Then executive director Wan Saiful Wan Jan warned that while the health department had ‘good intentions’, their proposed solution is wrong because it will only encourage illegal activity without reducing the number of smokers.”

The report stated that Ideas argued that “one out of every two packs” of Malaysian cigarettes were smuggled and a tax increase would feed the black market.

“The think-tank accepted donations from Philip Morris Singapore, Philip Morris Malaysia and Japan Tobacco International alongside money from the American, British and Canadian governments, according to financial disclosures by the think-tank,’’ the report stated.

“A 2014 Philip Morris Interna­tional (PMI) strategy to counter the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control states it should find ‘allies that cannot be ignored’, and Ideas fits this criteria in Ma­­laysia,” the report further stated.

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