Thai tobacco maker plans cheap cigarettes to offset new tax

By Nattasuda Anusonadisai and Grant Peck, AP

BANGKOK–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 (US$1.12) a pack and be launched on April 1. Other brands now range from about 48 to 130 baht (US$1.34 to US$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.”