Tobacco industry torpedoed standardized packaging plans in Malaysia
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Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, Bangkok, Thailand
Publication date: 2021-09-02
Corresponding author
Tan Yen Lian   

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, Bangkok, Thailand
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2021;19(Suppl 1):A69
Malaysia planned to strengthen its pictorial health warning (PHW) regulations implemented since 2009 by announcing the standardized packaging (SP) proposal on 24 February 2016. It is to reduce brand recognition with standardized colors and fonts, ultimately reducing overall consumption. However, a month later, the Health Minister withheld the implementation date until public consultations with the tobacco companies on intellectual property rights (IPR) is done. Since then there has been no concrete plan on this policy.

The paper aims to analyse common arguments and tactics by TI and its front groups undermining government efforts to adopt SP measure.

Keywords were used to retrieve all online news articles related to SP measures in Malaysia via Google search engine. A content analysis identifying a thematic agenda was employed to identify pro-TI arguments against the SP proposal.

The analysis found various industry tactics and arguments were used against the SP proposal. These included the Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers claiming negative impacts on standardized packaging through (1) infringement on Malaysia’s obligations under several international agreements; (2) the use of trademarks and intellectual property rights (IPR) in other industries; (3) jeopardising Malaysia as an investment destination; and (4) massive increase in illegal cigarettes trade. On other fronts, the ASEAN Intellectual Property Association lobbied the health minister claiming that SP is a “major curtailment of IPR with negative impacts”; the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs conducted an international campaign against SP; and the Property Rights Alliance wrote a letter to the editor claiming that SP is a direct attack on economic freedom, preventing TI from using their trademarks on cigarette packs.

The government should stay firm with its decision on SP emulating Thailand (2019) and Singapore (2020) and not succumb to TI pressure, as they will continue to thwart any tobacco control efforts.

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