(File pix) The thinking is that if sellers are licensed, then only legal sales would happen and those caught selling contraband would not only be punished, but their right to sell would be taken away.

SEVERAL parties have proposed that in curbing the sale of illicit cigarettes, retailers should be required to have a special licence to sell cigarettes.

The thinking is that if sellers are licensed, then only legal sales would happen and those caught selling contraband would not only be punished, but their right to sell would be taken away.

The reintroduction of small cigarette packs has added to the debate. Parties who oppose this solution are turning their attention to sellers.

There is no doubt that retailers are supporting the reintroduction of small packs to close the price gap between legal and contraband cigarettes.

Yet, instead of seeking a solution, those against small packs are targeting retailers. This is not the right focus.

We agree that there is a serious illicit cigarette trade in Malaysia, with more than one out of two cigarettes being illegal.

However, putting more barriers and restrictions on legitimate sales is not going to improve the situation. It will worsen it.

Enforcement has been ineffective in stopping the surge in contraband ever since a major tax increase in 2015, and illegal trade has reached unprecedented levels.

But licensing is not the solution.

In the case of cigarettes, the likelihood is that many, especially those selling illegal products, would not apply for the licence.

They will just stop the sale of legal cigarettes and increase the sale of smuggled ones.

Then it will depend on the very same thing that has failed thus far: enforcement.

Except that the risk of non-enforcement now is higher. When large numbers of retailers stop selling legal products, they will inevitably increase the sale of contraband items.

There must be a holistic view on how to tackle this problem, not place more burden and restrictions on the parties involved.

The focus should be on having measures to bring back legal sales, not encourage cigarettes or smoking, but pulling back sales from illegal to legal products.

That should be implemented before any measures are taken to control tobacco sales and smoking.

Hence, the 10-pack proposal — which we, at the Malaysia-Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors General Association and several other retail associations are requesting the government to implement — aims to do this.

What we do understand are the consumer and retail environments and what motivates purchase decisions.

Unfortunately, at this time, the line between right and wrong, between the awareness of legal and illegal products, is blurred.

The only practical, immediate and temporary solution that would stop the situation from worsening is the reintroduction of 10-stick packs.

Contraband cigarette sales is being allowed to flourish and the country needs to address this with practical and effective solutions, not with slogans calling for restrictions that won’t solve the problem.

Ho Su Mong

Chairman, Malaysia Singapore Coffee Shop Proprietors' General Association, Kuala Lumpur

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