Tobacco Essential But Alcohol Non-Essential Show Inconsistencies, Govt Uncoordinated

KOTA KINABALU: There should be no double standards – why cigarettes deemed essential but alcohol deemed non-essential?

Certain industries are heavily regulated in Malaysia, including the alcohol, cigarette and gambling industries. MKN had banned the gambling industries from operating during lock down, and the general public do not have much grouses on such closures of casinos or lottery stores as people can forego such entertainment which are certainly not essential to people’s daily life, and that they can resort to other source of entertainment that can be found online.

Tobacco factories, on the other hand, were categorised as essential services and allowed to operate. In contrast, alcohol factories and liquor stores were deemed non-essential and aren’t allowed to operate.

The federal government, in its infinite wisdom, gave the reason that the continuous manufacturing and selling of cigarette is essential as it is to accommodate those with addiction. Such a reasoning has invited major confusions as it is common knowledge in medical literature that even alcoholics suffer from addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

How can the federal government categorise tobacco under essential but not alcohol? How do they even determine what is supposed to be essential? Is tobacco a sector on their own, or is it under Manufacturing of Food and Beverages? We presume yes.

If liquor is a kind of beverages, then why should we further sub-categorise it? How can we further categorise variant kind of drinks whether they are essential or not? Is soft drink such as coca cola essential? Is energy drink such as red bull essential? Are traditional drinks such as soy milk and coconut water essential? At the end of the day, more questions were raised instead, leading to confusion amongst the public and business community.

One might argue that the most essential food items are such that are always delivered in the food basket to flooding victims or B40 under EMCO, e.g. rice, mee, some canned food like sardine, bread and drinking water, basic food that are capable of sustaining life. The million dollar question is then should we ban all other food and beverages from being sold during lock down too? Will former prime minister Najib Razak and his family be deprived of his healthier quinoa during this lockdown and be forced to revert back to eating rice, as rice is also capable of sustaining life?

If the decision is to allow the food and beverages sector to operate, then do not create anymore sub-categories as the country will only be led into a rabbit hole with no end to arguments as to what kind of food and beverages are essential.

Clearly, the government should not practice double standards here. Both the tobacco industry and alcohol industries are “sin items” which could cause addictions and shunned by religious authorities, and most importantly, both contribute to public coffer. There are no major differences between the two. If so, then why double standard of allowing only cigarette factories and stores to operate?

Whilst alcohol, cigarette and gambling have been deemed to be non-essential goods and services during this FMCO, the intention is of the government is not to moral police or to shut down these industries during the FMCO but merely to reduce movement so as to prevent the spread of Covid-19. As such, there ought to be no double standards on the treatment between these goods and services.

Alcohol, cigarette and gambling taxes are a popular way for governments to raise revenue, and this can be see at how the government had been increasing such “sin taxes” under the pretext to reduce the number of smokers, drinkers and gamblers.

In 2017, the federal government is reported to have collected a tax totalling RM3.94 billion from cigarettes and tobacco products. while the brewery industry brought in some RM2.27 billion in tax revenue to the public coffers in 2019. These are all  “sin tax” but which contribute greatly to the development of the country in many ways.

Then with the revenue collected, the government could make use of the money for public health purposes such as combating Covid-19.

We hereby urge the government to allow alcohol factories and stores to operate under the same conditions imposed on the tobacco industry, with 60% work capacity and shorter time of operating. Government policies have to be fair, consistent and comprehensible, failing which the people will end up confused, or worse, having misconception about the government that they are oppressing minority rights, especially those of the non-Muslims.

Datuk Seri Panglima Madius Tangau, MP for P170 Tuaran

Datuk Darell Leiking, MP for P174 Penampang

Chan Foong Hin, MP for P172 Kota Kinabalu