Address easy access to contraband cigarettes, liquor


This article first appeared on FMT by Robin Augustin. Image above is sourced from FMT.

PETALING JAYA: The proposal to increase the minimum fine to RM100,000 will not do much to resolve the problem of illicit cigarettes or contraband liquor in the country, says a criminologist.

Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist Assoc Prof P Sundramoorthy says imposing heavier penalties is just one way to combat the problem.

Recently, Royal Malaysian Customs Department director-general T Subromaniam said the proposal to increase the minimum fine was a drastic measure to combat cigarette and liquor smuggling in the country.

Currently, Section 135 (1)(d) of the Customs Act 1967, states that anyone found guilty of being in possession of illicit cigarettes can be fined up to 20 times the value of the contraband cigarettes or jailed for up to three years or both.

Sundramoorthy said the primary problem now was the easy access traders and the public had to such contraband.

“We first have to address the mass availability of contraband cigarettes and alcohol.

“Obviously, enforcement at the borders and at the local authority level is slack because these contraband are being brought in from other countries or manufactured here and openly sold to the public.

“It is the lack of will to enforce laws or corruption that allows this trade to flourish.”

Sundramoorthy said enforcement against all those involved in the smuggling, sale and use of contraband needed to be ramped up.

He added that the government’s move to hike up prices of cigarettes and alcohol must be accompanied by greater enforcement.

“If we do not enforce the law properly, it’ll be detrimental to increase prices as this will fuel greater demand for illicit cigarettes and liquor.”

Sundramoorthy added that those who bought, possessed or smoked contraband cigarettes or liquor should be charged in court and fined.

“As these contraband are so easily available, even decent law-abiding citizens and foreign residents are willing to buy these contraband items.”

For the smugglers and local manufacturers of contraband goods, he said a prison sentence must accompany the heavy fines.

“Fines alone will not suffice for these people. They must be jailed as well.”

Retailers and entertainment outlet operators who sell contraband must be fined, jailed and have their licences revoked.

“Their punishments should be less severe than those involved in smuggling, though they should still be jailed and fined.”

Last month, Deputy Health Minister Dr Hilmi Yahaya announced the 27% price increase as one of the measures the government is taking to get more Malaysians to quit smoking, but the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) warned that this would boost the illegal cigarette trade industry.

IDEAS CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan said one out of every two packs sold in Malaysia is illegal and that between 2003 and 2013, the illegal tobacco market grew by 46%, parallel to increases in tobacco taxes.

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