Minding the tobacco industry


THE Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) welcomes the news about the imminent introduction of the long-awaited standalone Tobacco Control Act to replace

the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations (CTPR) 2004 which was ironically placed under the Food Act 1983, “Tobacco Control Act likely to be out by year-end” (The Star, April 9).

It is hoped that the Health Ministry will then plug up all the loopholes in the CTPR and anticipate how the tobacco industry would evolve in the future.

We have to understand that smoking is about nicotine addiction and the maintenance of the level of nicotine in the blood.

We also have to understand that the concept of traditional smoking is going to be archaic because the tightening control of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) will force the industry to think beyond the conventional parameters.

Hence, the way forward for the industry is to adopt brand and product extensions so that their products will not be within the definitions of most countries’ tobacco control laws or the FCTC.

The industry knows that any legal amendment may take months, if not years, to enact. Thus, it will be ahead in thwarting the tobacco control effort every time.

After Malaysia’s ratification of the FCTC in 2005, we noticed a sudden increase in fanciful packs that we suspect were an experiment by the industry to test how far they could push their products in 2008. That was the time we saw the flip pack, button pack, fruit flavoured cigarettes, the inclusion of inserts and various types of sleeves for the packs. Some of the sleeves are meant to conceal the pictorial health warnings on the packs. These pre-emptive actions by tobacco companies came a year before the FCTC Article 11 concerning pictorial health warnings was introduced!

Over the years, the CTPR underwent numerous amendments, including the introduction of pictorial health warnings in January 2009. At that time, it was 40% of the front and 60% of the back of the pack. In January 2014, it was increased to 50% of the front and the back of the pack remained at 60%. Warning text that appears in Malay on the front of the pack and English on the back remained the same.

Misleading descriptors such as “light”, “mild”, “low tar”, “premium” and “full flavour” were banned on the packages. However, this did not prevent tobacco companies from circumventing the ban with creative and fanciful names such as “Advance Hybrid”, “Double Burst”, and “Ice Blast”.

At one time, in an attempt to circumvent the issue of second-hand smoke, vaping became popular for a while with the industry arguing that what is produced from vaping is largely vapour. The government then banned e-liquids that contained nicotine because “unauthorised selling of nicotine is considered illegal”.

The vaping habit did not catch up because smokers were terrified by the numerous cases of exploding vaping devices; studies that it can cause “popcorn lungs” (if the e-liquid contains a chemical called diacetyl), vapers tongue and other diseases; the ban on use of nicotine in e-liquids and a host of other problems.

With many countries banning smoking in public places, tobacco companies have to think of other means of indulging the nicotine addiction such as by tobacco chewing and, more recently, using heat-not-burn tobacco devices.

Heat-not-burn products have also been found to be unsafe last year as a new study offered fresh evidence of health risks associated with their use.

The definition of cigarettes in the CTPR is rather narrow: “any product which consists wholly or partly of cut, shredded or manufactured tobacco derivative or substitute, rolled up in a single or more wrapper of paper, and which is capable of immediately used for smoking”.

For the Tobacco Control Act, it has to be formulated beyond the definition of cigarettes to include all tobacco-based products, products containing nicotine, or anything for use in the same manner as tobacco products, unless they are for medical purposes and prescribed by a doctor.

Philip Morris International announced in January 2018 that it was going to stop selling cigarettes completely in order to achieve a “smoke-free” future. It might be true because it announced the introduction of “heat-not-burn” devices as a potential replacement.

In fact, tobacco companies scrambled to quickly market similar products to beat the ever tightening control on conventional cigarettes.

CAP has for decades been an advocate for tobacco control and with its experience is willing to work closely with the Health Ministry on this matter.

The Tobacco Control Act should also synchronise with other laws, particularly those pertaining to smuggled cigarettes for which we call for a mandatory jail sentence and confiscation of the goods and property of those involved in the illicit trade.

S. M. MOHAMED IDRIS

President

Consumers Association of Penang

Opinion , Health , tobacco , new law