At one time 60 percent of men were smokers in Malaysia. In the mid 2000s, there were 6.2 million smokers, or 28.8 percent of the population. The number of cigarettes smoked a year increased from 1,400 in 1972 to 2,050 in 1982 and decreased to 1,630 in 1992, when Malaysia ranked 44th in the world in cigarette consumption. Malaysia has considered a ban on tobacco advertising.

In June 2011, Malacca state became the first state in Malaysia to make large areas, including the entire districts of Alor Gajah and Jasin, no-smoking zones. R.S.N. Murali wrote in The Star, “Offenders caught puffing in these districts could be slapped with a maximum compound of RM5,000. The five areas designated as free from cigarettes are the 4.2sq kilometers World Heritage City, Taman Malacca Raya, the Malacca International Trade Centre in Ayer Keroh as well as the Alor Gajah and Jasin town centres. [Source: R.S.N. Murali, The Star, June 7, 2011]

Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai declared these areas as strictly no-smoking zones and said enforcement would be based on the provisions of the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004. “These five areas totalling about 338ha will be free from cigarette smoke, making Malacca the maiden state to have a gazetted no-smoking zone. “Those caught will be hit with a compound of RM300 although the maximum penalty is RM5,000,” Liow told reporters.

He said enforcement efforts would be conducted by state Health Department officials complemented by city and local councils' enforcement units. Liow said his ministry had previously gazetted 21 sites, among others, cinemas, shopping complexes, hospitals, air-conditioned and enclosed restaurants, recreational parks and sports complexes as no-smoking zones, but this is the first time such a prohibition covers a vast public area like the whole of the Jasin town centre.

Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the state government was serious about declaring more tourist destinations in the state smoke-free zones. Restaurant owner Lee Teck Kim, 52, said the state government should provide an area for smokers. “We can't stop foreigners from smoking in our premises,” he said.

Malaysia Islamic Party Pick 'Non-Smoking Candidate'

In 2007, Malaysia’s main Islamic opposition party said it would only field candidates for the upcoming general elections who did not smoke. The Islamic party has also asked its candidates to take on oath promising to divorce their wives if they to defect to other parties.

AFP reported: “The Pan-Malaysia Islamic (PAS) party’s spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat said smoking was un-Islamic and people who smoked did not fully understand Islam, state Bernama news agency reported. “Some Muslims consider smoking haram (forbidden),” the elderly religious leader said. “I prefer to choose candidates who do not smoke. By now they should understand the party's requirements that to contest in the election, they must have the characteristics of a true Islamic leader,” he said. [Source: AFP, July 14, 2007]

In 2010, PAS again said would field only non-smoking candidates in an upcoming by-election. AFP reporte: PAS, “which is a part of the opposition alliance, said the candidate it will pick for the poll in northern Kelantan state must display good Islamic character and the person must be a non-smoker. "I will reject smokers from the start. They are not only ruining their health but also wasting money," PAS spiritual leader Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat was quoted as saying by the New Sunday Times paper. He also told the Malay newspaper Berita Minggu that the candidate must also pray regularly and be a non-gambler. There are no clear religious edicts banning smoking, but Nik Abdul Aziz has said previously that some Muslim scholars consider smoking as forbidden. [Source: AFP, October 2, 2010]

Betel Nut

Betel nut is popular in Malaysia. Some chew paan, a mixture of betel nut, lime paste, spices and often tobacco, wrapped in a betel leaf. It is often consumed after a meal and is meant to be chewed slowly to release the flavors and aid digestion. There are many varieties of paan. Some are quite potent . Paan is placed between the cheek and gum and consumed in way similar to chewing tobacco. The red juice stains the lips and teeth and is meant to be spit out (although some kinds of sweet paan can be swallowed).

The active ingredient in betel nut is a volatile oil called arecoline. Released from the nut by saliva and lime, it is a mild central nervous system stimulant which increases respiration. Studies of the drug have shown that it improves learning and memory and counteracts intestinal parasites. Betel nut is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat headaches, stomach pains, venereal diseases, fever, rheumatism and other ailments.

Betel nut makes the saliva red. Regular usage stains the mouth, teeth and gums red. Long terms users have damaged and blackened teeth and damaged soft tissues in the mouth. Betel is considered a health hazard. It has been linked with throat, mouth and esophageal cancers

Illegal Drugs in Malaysia

According to the CIA World Factbook: “Drug trafficking is prosecuted vigorously and carries severe penalties. Heroin is still primary drug of abuse, but synthetic drug demand remains strong. Malaysia is a ecstasy and methamphetamine producer for domestic users and, to a lesser extent, the regional drug market.

On opium-smoking in Borneo in the 1840s, James Brooke wrote in his journal in “Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido for the Suppression of Piracy”: “Started on a short excursion up the country, and slept at Siniawan. Here I found a young Pangeran (who came from Samhas with Mr. Hupe, a German missionary) enchained in the delights of opium. He left Sarawak for Sambas two months since, proceeded five hours' journey, and has since been smoking the drug and sleeping alternately. His life passes thus: between four and five he wakes, yawns, and smokes a pipe or two, which fits him for the labours of taking his guitar and playing for an hour. Then follows a slightly tasted meal, a pipe or two succeeds, and content and merriment for another hour or two. About eight o'clock the gentleman reclines, and pipe succeeds pipe till, towards daylight, he sinks intoxicated and stupid on his pillow, to wake up again in due course to play again the same part. Poor wretch ! two months of this life of dissipation have reduced him to a shadow — two more months will consign him to his grave.” [Source: “The Expedition to Borneo of H.M.S. Dido For the Suppression of Piracy” by Henry Keppel and James Brooke (1847)]

In the 1980s, Malaysia was one of the largest importers of Golden Triangle heroin. There were an estimated 350,000 addicts in the country in 1983. Addicts were treated by “bomohs” (traditional Malay healers) with herbal teas and Islamic verses written on their chests. The bomohs said their success rate was 60 percent.

In the early 2000s, police seized $68 million worth of ecstacy pills and synthetic drugs in what was the largest narcotics bust in Malaysia ever. Police arrested 10 people, including a 14-year-old girl, in a series of raids in Kuala Lumpur. The raids began after a man from Hong Kong was found with 12 kilograms of methamphetamine in a Kuala Lumpur hotel.

In 2004, the Asahi Shimbun reported: “Satun, a Malaysian border town, has become a base of smuggling not only for Malaysians but also for traffickers from the islands of Sumatra in Indonesia. Disguised as fishermen, traffickers reportedly smuggle drugs in addition to weapons for the guerrillas in Aceh province in northern Sumatra. Satun police have arrested more 115 smugglers and are still searching for more than 100 suspects. “Laotian marijuana is being smuggled into Malaysia, and Malaysian Ecstasy is being smuggled into tourist locations,'' says Prajak Musikasukol, the Satun chief of police. [Source: Masaaki Sanada, The Asahi Shimbun, December 25, 2004]

Methamphetamines are called syabu in Malaysia. Large meth labs in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were closed in 2006.


Drug Laws in Malaysia

Travelers to Malaysia are told: “Don’t even think about buying or transporting illegal drugs.” There’s a mandatory death penalty for trafficking (possession of 200 grams of marijuana is considered to be trafficking). The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of morphine; 30 grams of cocaine; 500 grams of cannabis and 200 grams of cannabis resin. Possession of these quantities is all that is needed for someone to be convicted. For unauthorised consumption, there is a maximum of 10 years jail, a heavy fine, or both. [Source:]

According to Human Rights Watch: The National Anti-Drugs Agency maintains over 20 Puspens (drug retention centers) where detainees are held a minimum of two years. Although rates of relapse to drug use have been estimated in Malaysia at 70 to 90 percent, people who are re-arrested as users face long prison terms and caning. [Source: Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012: Malaysia]

Under Malaysian law, anyone found possessing a minimum of 50 grams of methamphetamine is considered to be trafficking in a dangerous drug, which is punishable by death by hanging. Drug smuggling carries the mandatory death penalty by hanging in Malaysia. Phillip Smith wrote in, “In Malaysia, a man faces death for less than two pounds of marijuana. In Malaysia, Razali Ahmad, 33, was found guilty of trafficking marijuana in 2007 after police searched his house and found 858 grams. In Malaysia, the charge of trafficking carries an automatic death sentence. Two Australians—Kevin John Barlow and Brian Geoffrey Chambers — were hanged in Malaysia in 1986 for trafficking five ounces of heroin. They were the first Westerners to be executed under Malaysia’s tough anti-drug laws. [Source: by Phillip Smith,, December 21, 2007]

Since 1960 more than 440 people have been executed in Malaysia. As of early 2011, year, Malaysia had nearly 700 prisoners, mostly men, on death row. More than two-thirds of them were involved drug offences. The last execution in Malaysia was carried out in 2010. [Source: AFP]

In August 2003, a man convicted of trafficking heroin escaped the death penalty when it was revealed that he lied to protect his girlfriend. The man had spent 13 years in prison. He was arrested in 1990 with 86 grams of heroin in a room he share with his girlfriend. Both were charged with trafficking but the girlfriend was released when the man said the heroin was his.

Japanese Woman Sentenced to Hang in Malaysia over Drug Smuggling

In October 2011, a Malaysian court sentenced a Japanese woman to death today for smuggling methamphetamine into the country. AFP reported: “A high court in Shah Alam near the capital Kuala Lumpur found Mariko Takeuchi guilty of drug trafficking, an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to make public statements. Takeuchi, a 36-year-old former nurse, was arrested in October 2010 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport after arriving from Dubai with 3.5 kilograms of the drug. Takeuchi has testified that she was duped by a man into carrying a bag containing the methamphetamine but did not know the drugs were inside. [Source: AFP, October 25, 2011]

In March 2013, The Court of Appeal upheld a lower Court's decision to hang a Japanese ex-nurse for trafficking in 3.4kg of methamphetamines in 2009. Qishin Tariq wrote in The Star, “The court led by Justice Mohamed Apandi Ali denied Mariko Takeuchi's appeal. Her counsel Afifuddin Ahmad Hafifi submitted that there had been discrepancies in the drug exhibit which was seized and tendered to the court. "The weight of the drugs had changed during the proceedings at the magistrate's level, compared to the weight recorded at the time of arrest," he said. Justice Mohamed Apandi questioned why the weight could have changed and what reason the Customs officers would have to frame the Japanese national for drug trafficking. He said counsel should provide more reasons to back his theory if he intended to question the integrity of the Customs' officers. [Source: Qishin Tariq, The Star/Asia News Network, March 28, 2013]

Takeuchi was arrested at a Customs inspection counter at the international arrival hall of KLIA at 9.55pm on Oct 30, 2009. On Oct 25, 2011, the High Court convicted Takeuchi, 39, of drug trafficking after ruling that she had failed to raise reasonable doubt. Justice Siti Mariah Ahmad said she found Takeuchi's testimony that she had travelled from Dubai to Kuala Lumpur to pass cash to a friend, only to return with a bag she assumed was "full of clothes" to be fake and illogical. It is learned that Takeuchi is the first Japanese woman to receive the death penalty for drug trafficking in the country. Takeuchi, who wore a bright pink baju kurung, appeared to be calm as her lawyer explained the outcome to her, but was seen occasionally wiping away her tears.

Kyodo reported: “Takeuchi’s lawyer, Affifuddin Ahmad Hafifi, told reporters outside the court that the defendant will appeal to the Federal Court, the country’s highest court. If her second appeal also fails, her last chance would be to seek a pardon from the sultan. Takeuchi pleaded innocent in her first trial, claiming she did not know about the drugs found in a suitcase she brought to Malaysia from Dubai. She said she was carrying the suitcase as a favor for an Iranian acquaintance. Takeuchi, who has been incarcerated since her arrest, is the first Japanese national to be tried for drug-trafficking in Malaysia and the first sentenced to hang. [Source: Kyodo, March 28, 2013]

Europeans Arrested for Drugs in Malaysia in 2011

In November 2011, Malaysian police busted a drug ring, detaining 11 people, including four Europeans, in the first such arrests in several years. AFP reported: “Federal narcotics chief Noor Rashid Ibrahim said the men - a Dutch, two English, a French, two Singaporeans and five Malaysians - were arrested in raids on a suspected drug laboratory and a factory in the north. A total of 240 litres of a liquid believed to be liquid ecstasy and 34 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized, Noor Rashid said. The drugs are valued at around $5 million. "This is the first time in recent years that we have arrested Europeans" in such raids, he told AFP. "We believe the Dutch is the chemist".[Source: AFP, November 14, 2011]

The men, aged between 24 and 60, are in custody and are being investigated for drug trafficking. Noor Rashid said the Europeans, who entered Malaysia on tourist visas, are believed to have been involved in making the ecstasy. Local media have reported customs officials arrested two other European men at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport early in the month. The Europeans arrived from Dubai allegedly carrying bags containing 4.25kg of methamphetamine, The Star daily said. They are also being investigated for drug trafficking.

Swede Sentenced to Death for Drugs in Malaysia

In April 2013, a 44-year-old Swedish citizen has been given the death penalty by a Malaysian court for drugs trafficking. The Local reported: “The 44-year-old was arrested in the arrivals hall of the Kuala Lumpur airport in December 2011. He was carrying 4.3 kilograms of methamphetamine. The drugs were hidden at the bottom of his bag. Malaysian court issued the death penalty with the judge, Noor Azian, claiming the prosecutor had sound evidence against the man. "With no other alternatives available, the court has to impose a sentence of death as provided under the law," said Azian, according to Malaysian news site NewStraitsTimes. [Source: The Local, April 12, 2013]

Azian said the defence had failed to raise reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case and that the Swede had relied solely on denial in his defence against the charge. The Swede is of Iranian origin and was living in Stockholm before moving to Thailand several years ago. According to the news site Asiaone News, the 44-year-old owns a bar in Pattaya, a popular holiday destination for Swedes. "I haven't seen or heard from him in at least five years," the man's ex-wife told Aftonbladet. She was shocked to hear of his ordeal. "I know that he has travelled to Thailand before, but I had no idea he had moved there. I have asked him to get in touch now and then or to send a postcard, but he never did," she said.

A total of nine witnesses testified in the trial. Representatives at Sweden's Foreign Ministry remained in the dark about proceedings, but pointed out that the Swede was not alone in standing in line for the death penalty. "There are several hundred people who are in prison and awaiting a death penalty," Catarina Axelsson, spokeswoman at the ministry, told the Aftonbladet newspaper. "The hope has been that Malaysia would abolish the death penalty, but it can take time. Sweden and the EU are actively working against the death penalty."

Africans Given Death Sentence for Drugs in Malaysia

In June 2012, The Star reported: “A 25-year-old Zambian student broke down in tears after a Malaysian High Court sentenced her to death for trafficking 1.3kg of methamphetamine. Nachilongo Doreen sobbed upon learning about her conviction and sentence through an interpreter in Malaysia. She was charged with trafficking the drugs in front of the international arrival hall at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February 2011. [Source: The Star, June 17, 2012]

Malaysian Justice Noor Azian Shaari, in her ruling, said the court did not accept the accused’s claim that the drugs were planted in her bag when she was detained by the Immigration Department for eight hours. “From the way the drugs were properly placed at the bottom of the bag and how it was glued, the court finds it impossible for the drugs to be planted in her bag during her detention,” said the judge.Justice Noor Azian also pointed out that although the accused claimed she had come to Malaysia to look for a job, her flight ticket stated that she was only staying in the country for a week. Records also showed the accused had booked a stay at the Hilton Hotel. “I find her defence to be unreasonable. The defence has failed to raise a reasonable doubt in the case,” she added before passing the mandatory death sentence. The accused was represented by Amrit Pal Singh while DPP Suzana Abd Latiff appeared for the prosecution.

In August 2012, AFP reported: “Moses Chinedu Nwosu, a Nigerian in Malaysia has been sentenced to death by A Malaysian court after convicting him of trafficking more than 14 kilos (31 pounds) of marijuana over the land border with Thailand, a report said. The court said there was little doubt Moses Chinedu Nwosu, 50, was guilty of the crime — punishable with death by hanging — after the drugs were seized from him on the night of March 25 last year, Bernama news agency said. [Source: AFP, August 26, 2012]

The accused testified the drugs carried in a black bag belonged to another man he was travelling with from the Thai border to the northern Malaysian town of Alor Setar, Bernama said citing the judgment. “However, according to a witness, Moses was seen carrying the black bag… and its key was found in his pocket,” the judge said.

The court decision is the latest in a clampdown by Malaysian authorities on alleged foreign drug traffickers. A Kuala Lumpur court charged 10 Iranians, an Uzbek and a local with trafficking methamphetamine a week earlier. An Australian nurse and Nigerian man were also charged with trafficking drugs a month earlier, a case which has attracted media attention worldwide.

Court Frees Hong Kong Man Facing Death on Drug Charge

In November 2008, a Hong Kong resident escaped the hanging after the Federal Court set aside his conviction and death sentence for trafficking in 9,103.9 grammes of methamphetamines in Kuala Lumpur in 2000. An overjoyed Chan King Yu, 37, who is a British national, said all that he wanted to do now was to get back home to his family. "It was the first time that I had come to Malaysia (in 2000 before his arrest). I don't think I want to come back here," said Chan of Cheung Shu Wan, Kowloon, Hong Kong, adding that he was not angry with what had happened to him in this country. [Source: The Star, November 14, 2008]

The Star reported: “The Federal Court three-man bench presided by Justices Datuk Abdul Aziz Mohamad, Datuk Hashim Yusoff and Datuk Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, in a 21 majority, acquitted and discharged Chan after holding that there were glaring discrepancies in the prosecution's case. Justices Zulkefli and Hashim ruled that Chan had raised a reasonable doubt on the prosecution's case while Abdul Aziz dissented.

Chan, who worked as a driver in Hong Kong, was found guilty of trafficking in the syabu or methamphetamine at a room of Nova Hotel in Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, at 9.20 pm on June 19 2000 by the High Court on May 2 2002 and sentenced to death. His appeal to the Court of Appeal was unsuccessful and the case was brought up to the Federal Court. Justice Zulkefli said Chan, at the most, was only an innocent carrier and he accepted Chan's defence that he had no knowledge of the drugs because he had claimed that the three plastic bags (containing stainless steel cylinders with the drugs) found in the hotel room he had occupied belonged to one Man Chai and that he (Chan) genuinely believed that the plastic bags contained tools.

"From the evidence unraveled in court, it is clear that Chan's defence was not a bare denial but an explanation indicating that the alleged drugs could have belonged to Man Chai and Man Chai could have been the trafficker," Zulkefli said. Zulkefli also said there was justification to find that during the two police raids that day the raiding police team had first entered Chan's room in his absence and planted the drugs as Chan had contended. Zulkefli said that based on evidence, he was of the view that the raiding party had intentionally destroyed crucial evidence to cover up the first raid conducted in the absence of Chan to plant the drugs and implicate him.

Chan had claimed that there was no necessity for the raiding policemen to damage the lock of the hotel room door because they could have used the emergency key. He had alleged that the reason they damaged the lock was to intentionally permanently destroy information registered in the lock as to how many entries were made to the room. (The door of the room could only be opened with a card key.) Justice Abdul Aziz, however, accepted the prosecution's version that only one raid was conducted.

Chan's version of the story was that he came to Malaysia upon his boss's request to see Man Chai to collect money from various people in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru. Chan was doing a part-time job running a pub belonging to his boss. He claimed that Man Chai had met him at the airport and made all arrangements. Chan, who was represented by Datuk Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, claimed that Man Chai had also asked him to pick up the cylinders (containing the drug) and that he obeyed and brought them to the hotel room without looking at what they contained.

Meanwhile, outside the court, Muhammad Shafee said Malaysia should reconsider the imposition of capital punishment. "The whole world now is changing that pattern for various reasons. Firstly, it is a cruel and unusual punishment. It is a global view now. Secondly, you can be wrong and you cannot reverse your decision because you have already hanged the person. Whereas, when a man is serving life imprisonment, you can still find new evidence to prove his innocence and you can still get him out and compensate him. But if he is dead, you can do nothing," he said. The third reason he cited was that, internationally, it was difficult to seek mutual assistance from other countries to extradite a person facing the death sentence as the countries opposed to capital punishment would not assist in the extradition.

Death Penalty Not Deterring Drug Trade

In recent years more people have been arrested over drug dealing, despite the threat of the mandatory death penalty hanging for drugs. Patrick Lee wrote in Free Malaysia Today, “Malaysia’s mandatory death penalty on drug-related crime does not appear to have stopped drug dealers . In fact, it was the reverse: there has been a steady increase over the last three years, according to a reply in Parliament. In a written answer to Bukit Gelugor MP (DAP) Karpal Singh, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that 3,845 people had been arrested for drug dealing in 2011. “Police statistics for the arrests of drug dealers under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 for the past three years (2009 to 2011) have shown an increase,” he said. [Source: Patrick Lee, Free Malaysia Today, March 19, 2012]

According to him, in 2009, 2,955 people were arrested under this section. In 2010, 3,700 people were arrested. Karpal had asked if the 1983 amendments to the Act – which would slap serious drug offenders with capital punishment – had been effective in reducing drug-related crime. To this, Hishammuddin said that the increase was caused by the trade’s ability to make a lot of money quickly; globalisation, creating a borderless world, which opened up a space for drug-dealing; and the “easier process” in which synthetic drugs were made, through the availability of chemical formulas and ingredients.

Previously, the Bar Council said that 32 countries around the world had death penalty for drug-related crime. Of this number, 13 of them still enforced the mandatory death penalty, which included Malaysia. The Bar Council’s president Lim Chee Wee said that most drug traffickers and dealers were “low-ranking drug mules”, who were the easiest (in the trade) to apprehend.

He added that there was no proof that the death penalty helped to cut down on drug-related crime.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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