Tobacco Monopoly Readies Cigarettes for the Poor

One of a number of government-mandated visual warnings which have been printed on packs of cigarettes sold in Thailand.

BANGKOK — Weeks after the military government hiked taxes on cigarettes to discourage smoking, it announced today it will take measures to keep smoking affordable for the poor.

The director of the government cigarette agency said Friday it will release a new type of low-cost cigarette in order to keep them in the hands of low-income smokers, who may otherwise resort to the black market or rolling their own.

“Some customers turn to tobacco that they can roll up on their own, and some turn to untaxed and bootleg and illegal cigarettes,” Daonoi Suttiniphapunt, director of Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, told Matichon Online. “Because they are a third cheaper than the cigarettes on the market.”

The solution, she said, is to launch a new brand of smaller, inexpensive cigarettes no later than April.

“The price will be about 40 baht per pack in order to target the market of low-income consumers, and help them afford cigarettes,” Daonoi said.

The plan provides a fresh example of paradoxical programs launched by different components of the government, which occasionally run counter to each other’s interest.

One year ago in February 2015, the Ministry of Public Health moved in to install condom vending machines in schools and colleges to combat teen pregnancy and HIV, a plan soon blocked by social conservatives within the Ministry of Education.

While the state has invested money into the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and the Alcohol Control Board, which run extensive morality campaigns against smoking and drinking, it also operates whiskey breweries and tobacco factories, whose products bring in billions of baht in tax revenue each year.

Roughly one in five adults in Thailand are regular smokers, according to 2014 data from the National Statistics Office.

Daonoi estimated the 3 percent tax increase added to cigarettes Feb. 9 will cost the tobacco concern, which operates under the Finance Ministry, nearly 1 billion baht in revenues – each month.

To encourage a crackdown on untaxed cigarettes, Daonoi said, the monopoly will pay bounties to officers who confiscate cartons of unauthorized tobacco.

The payout will range from 1,500 baht per carton to 50,000 baht for large hauls that involve at least 50 cartons, Daonoi said.

Established in 1939, the tobacco monopoly for nearly six decades was just that, the only authorized producer of cigarettes, until the market was opened under a regional trade agreement in 1992.