Tobacco corporations push their presence in Malaysia throughout pandemic


The continued Covid-19 pandemic has meant that our healthcare staff have been going by means of private protecting gear (PPE) in a short time during the last two years.

Certainly, there was a time frame final yr when the scarcity of PPE was dire in our nation.

In response, many people, civil society organisations and firms rallied to provide or procure these much-needed supplies as donations for the Well being Ministry and its hospitals and clinics throughout the nation.

Amongst them was Yayasan Salam Malaysia, a non-profit organisation that counts Swiss-American cigarette and tobacco manufacturing firm Philip Morris Worldwide (PMI) Malaysia as one in all their company companions.

On Could 27, then Well being Minister Datuk Dr Adham Baba accepted a donation of PPE value RM220,000 from the organisation, which was documented on the ministry’s Fb web page.

The donation was reported to be sourced from company sponsorship.

Based on the Southeast Asia Tobacco Management Alliance’s (Seatca) Tobacco Business Watch web site, it was sponsored by PMI Malaysia.

A consultant from the tobacco firm was current on the handing-over ceremony.

Based on Article 13 of the World Well being Group’s Framework Conference on Tobacco Management (WHO FCTC) – a world treaty to which Malaysia is a signatory – all types of tobacco promoting, promotion and sponsorship needs to be comprehensively banned.

This assembly subsequently, was one of many fundamental causes Malaysia deteriorated in its rating within the recently-released 2021 World Tobacco Business Interference Index report.

This third annual report was produced by the World Heart for Good Governance in Tobacco Management (GGTC).

From thirty eighth place out of 57 international locations in 2020, Malaysia dropped to 57th out of 80 international locations, with a rating that elevated by three factors (the decrease the rating, the higher the rating).

“That’s after we dropped drastically – aside from the police, the Well being Ministry itself accepted the donation from PMI,” says Malaysian Ladies’s Motion for Tobacco Management and Well being (MyWatch) president Roslizawati Md Ali.

“And never simply the Well being secretary-general (was current), however the (then) Well being Minister Datuk Dr Adham Baba himself accepted it.”

Earlier, on Aug 21, 2020, the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) had obtained RM150,000 value of PPE donated by Japan Tobacco Worldwide (JTI) Malaysia, which was reported by the media.

JTI Malaysia had additionally donated automobiles to the PDRM on Feb 18, 2020, which was documented on the PDRM’s Fb web page.

Based on the Index report, the donation of 9 automobiles and two bikes was for enforcement towards the illicit cigarette commerce.

In each occasions, the then Inspector-Normal of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador accepted the donation from JTI Malaysia managing director Cormac O’Rourke.

Many individuals and organisations, like the Politeknik Ibrahim Sultan students here, made or purchased PPE to donate to the Health Ministry during the Covid-19 pandemic, many without any publicity. — Photos: FilepicMany people and organisations, just like the Politeknik Ibrahim Sultan college students right here, made or bought PPE to donate to the Well being Ministry throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many with none publicity. — Pictures: Filepic

A harmful substance

Some may argue that such donations could be put to good use, no matter their donor.

And Nationwide Most cancers Society Malaysia (NCSM) managing director Dr M. Murallitharan agrees.

“My tackle it’s: take the cash – you possibly can at all times take the cash from the satan.

“However did that you must publicise it within the method that it was publicised?

“Completely not!”

Smoke Free Partnership director Anca Toma, who was one of many audio system on the current media briefing on the Index report, has a tougher tackle it.

“It is vitally necessary that the tobacco business is denied the chance to advertise these donations and to make use of them to renormalise themselves as company residents.

“It’s been a tough yr, there may be an ongoing financial disaster and cash is tight, however this cash is blood cash, and it shouldn’t simply be accepted and it shouldn’t permit the tobacco business to fake it’s a superb citizen,” she says.

Based on the WHO, tobacco kills over eight million individuals yearly.

Over seven million of those individuals are people who smoke, whereas round 1.2 million are literally non-smokers who die because of being uncovered to secondhand smoke.

And within the context of the present pandemic, people who smoke are deemed to be at increased threat for creating extreme Covid-19 and being hospitalised.

Whereas cigarette smoking is the commonest type of tobacco use, additionally it is utilized in vaping merchandise (i.e. e-cigarettes), kretek, cigars and water pipes, amongst others.

The primary cause so many people who smoke discover it arduous to stop their behavior is due to the presence of the extremely addictive chemical nicotine in tobacco.

The addictiveness of nicotine was highlighted by Deputy Home Commerce and Shopper Affairs Minister Datuk Rosol Wahid when he initially defined why cigarettes, however not alcohol, had been allowed to be bought throughout the motion management order 3.0, regardless of each being non-essential gadgets.

He was quoted as saying: “Though they’re non-essential underneath (the usual working procedures from the) NSC, they’re nonetheless ‘important’ to cigarette addicts.

“We will’t cease its sale, in any other case there shall be issues.

“Solely people who smoke will perceive. With out cigarettes, will probably be an enormous burden for them.”

Not only a well being subject

A panel of experts discuss the 2015 Budget, which was the last time taxes were raised for tobacco in Malaysia.A panel of specialists focus on the 2015 Price range, which was the final time taxes had been raised for tobacco in Malaysia.

The stance by Rosol is indicative of how tackling the issue of smoking appears to be considered as strictly parked underneath the Well being Ministry.

NCSM president Datuk Dr Saunthari Somasundaram says: “Lots of people simply assume that the FCTC is – if you speak about authorities – it’s suppose to be simply (the) Well being (Ministry).

“But it surely’s not simply (the) Well being (Ministry), it’s the entire of presidency.”

One prime instance is taxation, which comes underneath the purview of the Finance Ministry.

Roslizawati factors out that tobacco taxes in Malaysia haven’t been raised since 2015 – a reality famous by the Index report.

“Why don’t you enhance taxes on tobacco as a substitute of accepting presents like that?” she asks, including that the tobacco business has continued to make big income all through the pandemic.

The income from the raised taxes may then be carved out for stop smoking programmes and enforcement actions, amongst others, she says.

Through the media briefing on the Index report, writer Mary Assunta identified: “A really attention-grabbing level to additionally word is that, in 11 international locations that recorded governments receiving charity from the tobacco business, these international locations additionally then appeared to offer some incentives within the type of tax breaks to the tobacco business, notably decrease taxes or not making use of a tax enhance, and even permitting late funds or a differential approach of of taxation.

“In order that was an remark that was made.”

One other instance is the funding in tobacco corporations by sovereign wealth funds like our Workers’ Provident Fund (EPF).

Whereas EPF has been persistently lowering its stake in British American Tobacco (M) Bhd since 2017, each Roslizawati and Dr Saunthari say that the fund nonetheless holds some tobacco firm shares.

In 2019, EPF signed the United Nations-supported Ideas for Accountable Funding, stating that it has “historically been a socially-conscious investor in excluding corporations which might be seen as unethical reminiscent of alcohol, tobacco, playing, weaponry and nuclear energy”.

Seatca govt director Ulysses Dorotheo says that residents needs to be conscious if their governments are investing their sovereign wealth funds in tobacco corporations.

“If residents are usually not conscious that that is taking place and don’t need their retirement funds to be invested in these tobacco corporations, they need to then complain and compel their governments to divest from the business and cease giving their cash to the tobacco corporations,” he mentioned throughout the media briefing.

Room for enchancment

General, Assunta, who can be the top of World Analysis and Advocacy at GGTC, says that 18 international locations confirmed enchancment from 2020 to 2021, with essentially the most improved international locations being Spain, Chile, Sudan, Israel and India.

Nevertheless, 31 international locations deteriorated, with those dealing with essentially the most elevated tobacco business interference being Peru, Uruguay, Solomon Islands, Argentina and america.

The highest-ranking nation was Brunei, who maintained their place from final yr, adopted by New Zealand and the UK.

The 2 bottom-ranked international locations had been the Dominican Republic and Switzerland.

She mentioned: “I’d prefer to conclude by saying that, total, even when international locations have improved, there may be nonetheless room for enchancment.

“And that the Tobacco Business Interference Index gives a possibility, as a result of it identifies areas of weaknesses and loopholes, in order that governments can repair these and get on with their efforts in tobacco management.”

Tan Shiow Chin is a 2021 APCAT Media Fellow.

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