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Thai tobacco maker plans cheap cigarettes to offset new tax

BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s state tobacco company said Saturday that it would launch a new, cheaper brand of cigarettes to keep smokers from rolling their own or buying illegally imported untaxed ones due to higher prices from a recently imposed tax hike.

The plan announced by the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly was denounced by anti-smoking activists who just weeks ago applauded the tax hike as a useful deterrent to smoking.

Daonoi Suttiniphapunt, director of Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, said the new brand, which will be slightly smaller in diameter than standard brands, will cost about 40 baht ($1.12) a pack and be launched on April 1. Other brands now range from about 48 to 130 baht ($1.34 to $3.64) a pack, she said.

“We are concerned that smokers will choose other alternatives that will severely harm their bodies, such as low-quality hand-rolling tobacco,” she said in a telephone interview. “They don’t use good quality material, they use no filters and there is a lot more residue. … They might put filters in, but in the process … there is usually more residue such as tar and nicotine than in legal cigarettes.”

According to Daonoi, there are 10.5 to 11 million smokers in Thailand.

“Those who have financial limitations, they will go to cheaper and low-quality products because they have no choice,” she said. “Quitting cigarettes is not easy.”

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, a program director for the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, scoffed at the reasoning for producing cheaper cigarettes.

“All tobacco products are harmful to health regardless of their form or source, whether roll-your-own or manufactured cigarettes, whether legal or illicit,” he said in an email. “It is a farce to believe that tobacco companies are interested in protecting the health of smokers by promoting the access and use of cheap legal cigarettes.”

“Producing cheap cigarettes that are affordable to the poor and the young is a strategy common to all tobacco manufacturers, whether private or state-owned, to keep tobacco products affordable in order to keep poor people addicted, entice young people to start smoking, and ultimately to maintain industry profits,” he said.

His organization previously praised Thai authorities for increasing the price of domestically produced cigarettes this month by 5 to 10 baht (14 to 28 cents), saying it was a good example of trying to improve public health through tax policy.

TTM’s Daonoi said that after the recent tax hike of about 3 percent, tobacco sales fell and the market size shrank by more than 2 percent.

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