Dearer cigarettes must go with tough enforcement

  • Letters
  • Friday, 17 Sep 2004

By V.K. Chin

SMOKERS are one group who have been regularly affected by every Budget and the present one is no exception as they will have to pay more for their addiction. 

Prime Minister and Finance Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has slapped them with an almost 40% increase in tax. 

The Government has purposely targeted the tobacco industry in an effort to discourage people, especially the young, from smoking. 

The costlier smoke seems to have an initial impact as a few coffeeshops have complained of much lower sales. 

One shopowner said he could only sell six packets of cigarettes daily, which was much lower than his normal figure. 

However, it is still too earlier to determine how long this slow take-off will last and sales may pick up once the smokers get used to the new prices. 

The only impact may be that many will most probably cut down on the number of cigarettes. 

Experience has shown that the tobacco industry and the smokers are a resilient lot and despite the regular price increases, the number of smokers has not decreased significantly. 

It has to be recognised that making smoking more expensive is unlikely to prevent or reduce the number of addicts. Equally important is enforcement, as without it, the campaign will not have the desired impact. 

If price should be the only factor, then more people would have given up this habit. As it is, smokers are prepared to keep up with their more expensive indulgence by reducing the number of sticks or spend less on other items. 

Countries that have proven effective in reducing smoking among their people are those that not only have tough anti-smoking laws but are also prepared to come down hard on those who break the law. 

Otherwise, all the no-smoking warnings will not be effective so long as the smokers know that no action will be taken against them for flouting the rules. 

There are no-smoking signs prominently displayed at restaurants and other public places to ask people to refrain from smoking but they are simply ignored by smokers who continue to puff away, completely disregarding the discomfort or the health of others in such air-conditioned places. 

Therefore, if the authorities are serious in tackling this unhealthy addiction and to protect the health of the public, they must act at once to deal with the culprits. 

While smokers have claimed that they have the right to smoke when and where they like, non-smokers also have the right to frequent public places without their health being put at risk. 

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