Malaysia has joined Australia, Ireland, France and the UK by anouncing the introduction of plain packaging for tobacco products, however unlike the other countries who have announced a deadline of May 2016 for the new law to come into effect, Malaysia has not given an implementation date, saying only it will happen in stages.
Price increases and plain packaging have seen a big reduction in smoking in Australia, especially amongst teenagers so it is a logical step for Malaysia. Malaysia and other countries like Singapore have tried more traditional campaigns including shock and awe advertising but these have failed to have any long term impact on the number of smokers in the country.
In Malaysia, 25% of smokers are reported to start smoking before they are 10 years old. It’s not known how much smoking costs Malaysia but in Canada, a country with a lower average number of smokers but a similar sized population, smoking costs the Canadian government around RM10.5 billion in direct health care and another RM38 billion in lost productivity. Meanwhile revenue from taxes on cigarettes totaled around RM9 billion. Canada is a good benchmark for Malaysia because approximately 5.7 million Canadians smoke, about the same as Malaysia.
According to the Star Newspaper, Malaysia’s treasury generates RM3.28 billion from duty on cigarettes yet could be losing 3 times that in health care costs and 10 times that in lost productivity.
Since 1991, Malaysia has spent over RM100 million on advertising to try and reduce the number of smokers in the country and in 2003 introduced the ‘tak nak’ campaign which you can read about here which seemed to do little more than raise awareness of the dangers of smoking but did little to reduce the numbers of smokers in the country, 20,000 of whom die from related diseases every year.
According to the Guardian newspaper, global tobacco sales are more than RM2.2 trillion and generate more than RM140 billion in profits for the top six tobacco firms. That equates to a profit of RM4,000 PER SECOND of every day!
The implications for the tobacco brands are huge and they are likely to fight such steps. It’s a complicated issue but with 25% of Malaysian smokers – that’s over 1 million Malaysians – starting under the age of 10, plain packaging is a good start but it is a tactical initiative and it won’t solve the problem on its own so needs to be part of a strategic branding initiative from a strategic brand consultancy such as Fusionbrand.
Thanks to these guys for the infographic.