Malaysia is the largest consumer of illegal cigarettes in the world with over 12 billion sticks sold in 2018: Study

It appears the situation is now surpassing crisis levels in Malaysia and this may need a more sustained level of strategic enforcement.

Smoking is a known health hazard, but it is worrying when cigarettes are sold illegally, and worse, consumed.

With a whopping number of 12 billion cigarette sticks sold in 2018, Malaysia has taken the top spot as the largest consumer of illegal cigarettes, revealed a study by research house Nielsen and the Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers.

The study found that 58.9 per cent of cigarettes sold in Malaysia were illegal – with most sales in the areas of Sabah, Sarawak, Pahang, Kelantan and Terengganu.

Lack of effective and coordinated enforcement

JT International Bhd managing director Cormac O’Rourke told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday (April 3) that Malaysia was one of the few countries in the world where illegal cigarettes sales continued to thrive.

The Star reported that O’Rourke cited the lack of effective and coordinated enforcement as one of the key reasons why illegal cigarette sales could not be contained.

He explained that cigarette smugglers would be able to manipulate existing policy loopholes and take advantage of porous borders as main smuggling routes into the country.

Three suggestions to counter illegal cigarette sales

The Star reported O’Rourke’s proposal of three measures.

He first suggested introducing an excise moratorium for the next three years in order to avoid price shocks, which would cause more smokers to switch to illegal cigarettes.

Additionally, O’Rourke proposed imposing a ban on trans-shipment of cigarettes at entry points in Malaysia.

He suggested introducing a single point of entry for any import of cigarettes into Malaysia instead.

“Trans-shipment has been manipulated by smugglers where the shipment of cigarettes arrives here supposedly bound for another country, but it never leaves and in the end finds its way into the local market,” O’Rourke said.

Lastly, O’Rourke added that an independent body comprising multiple government agencies including industry representatives, should be set up to lead a special task force on addressing illegal cigarette sales. 

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