ALOR STAR, Malaysia - The government's bid to contain smoking by raising the sin tax for tobacco products since last September is being jeopardised by illicit cigarette sale.
Sold at a friction of the market price, for as low as RM3 per pack, the contraband are getting increasingly popular as normal cigarettes are priced between RM10 (S$3.9) and RM12 per pack.
Despite a nationwide crackdown, the sale of illicit cigarettes was still rampant, especially in rural areas.
Many smokers, especially low-income earners and even middle-income earners, had switched from the premium or lower brands to kretek (clove cigarettes) and other illicit cigarettes brands.
What is more worrying is that the availability of illicit cigarettes is encouraging students to pick up the bad habit at a young age.
Checks by the New Straits Times revealed a number of male students from a secondary school in Kubang Rotan rushed to a sundry shop located across the school immediately after the school sessions to fulfil their nicotine addiction.
During a stakeout, the young smokers walked into the shop, located just 20m across the school, and bought the illicit cigarettes while in school uniform.
These students lit up the cigarettes in front of the shop, without bothering that they might be caught by teachers.
A Form 1 student, who was smoking in a group of five near the shop, said he started smoking at the age of 12.
A nearby resident, known only as Ahmad, revealed most shop owners selling illicit cigarettes sourced their supply from middlemen or smugglers during the early hours to avoid detection by law enforcers.
He said the contraband would be stocked up on their premises or illegal storage places and only a few cartons of each brand would be kept in the store, depending on the demand.