How much does it cost Malaysians to smoke today? | Photo by lanier67 on flickr

How much does it cost Malaysians to smoke today? | Photo by lanier67 on flickr

This piece by Kamarul Anwar was originally published in ISSUE Magazine.

I still have a copy of April 2004’s FHM Malaysia, the one with Sarah Tan on the cover. Once a VJ for the post-Asha Gill era of Channel [V], I honestly think – I shit you not – that Sarah is one of the most beautiful women on this planet. I still think so. All the more reason for me to keep the copy.

The cover story was an interview with Sarah, plus the inclusion of her sexiest photos. (As this was the Malaysian edition of FHM, you have to take the superlative with a grain of salt. But then again, Sarah Tan being Sarah Tan – one of the most beautiful women ever – seeing her in a short red tube dress, nothing too revealing – already made me stand on three legs. Hell, I’ll still think she’s hot if the photo spread had her only wearing Bernas’s rice sack.)

Her fireman uniform fetish aside, the other response of Sarah’s that stuck in my mind, even after more than eight years since the interview, was to the question of, “Which pick-up line would you use (if you were a man for a day)?”

“Have you got a light?”

Honestly, I don’t know the real reason that line has such a profound effect on me. I’m currently re-reading the interview (and of course, re-looking at all her photos), and it now feels like new reading material; I can’t recall the other parts of the Q&A.

I’ve given this a lot of thought throughout the years. Maybe the reason that I still remember that quote is because – as pathetic as this sounds – I would like to try that pick-up line at least once (preferably on a still-single Sarah Tan), just to see if it works.

And in the scenario playing in my head, the pick-up line has a high success rate. Firstly, it is not cheesy, unlike Did it hurt? Did it hurt, when you fell down from heaven? or the much more direct: Hey girl, nice shoes. Wanna fuck?

Secondly, it is practical. Ask a lady nicely, and it’s most likely she’ll let you use her lighter (given that she smokes and she’s not a grade-A bitch). Once the lady passes you her lighter, you will have a few seconds to light your cigarette. This will give you time to start a conversation with the woman. She won’t go away; she needs her lighter back. And hopefully, the topic you picked catches her interest, which will keep the conversation’s momentum rolling. Also, the time you need to flick the lighter and burn the end of your cigarette will be enough for her to check you out – and this will increase her interest in talking to you. But that’ll only work for the really good-looking guys lah.

However, in order to use this pick-up line, you have to be a veritable smoker. You don’t want to cough and blurt out germs to the chick’s face when you take your first puff. That’s so unsexy.

Maybe, subconsciously, that was the reason I picked up smoking three years ago, though I doubt it. I think my brain became infatuated with nicotine when it first got acquainted with the chemical.


I smoked Dunhill Lights almost exclusively during my brief time as a smoker. To this day, I still hate the taste of cigarettes, and I hate even more the effect cigarettes give to my breath. I had to buy a damn tongue scraper and use it every fucking few hours, just to eradicate the malodorous smell.

But it did calm my nerves down, and maybe this was just a placebo effect; I think better after I’ve taken a few puffs. Thus, Dunhill Lights was my choice of cigarette, because it doesn’t have that strong a smell compared to its Reds counterpart.

But I switched to the somewhat stronger yet undeniably cheaper Winston Lights after the government raised the ex-factory pricing of cigarettes, in which tobacco manufacturers decided to raise the price of their cigarette packs by 20 sen. (Note: Sorry, I don’t really understand what ex-factory pricing means. You’re better off Googling it yourself, you’re already on the Internet anyway.)

Twenty sen is pocket change. However, when you factor in the number of packs of cigarettes I bought in a month – 30, or one a day – that will result in a RM6 increase to my monthly budget for my deadly necessity. In a year, the cumulative extra cost will be RM72, enough to pay the car wash near my house to clean my car six times.

Now, there are rumours that if Barisan Nasional wins the 13th General Election, the incumbent coalition will raise the excise duty for tobacco at this year’s budget tabling, since it will be four years since the last time it did so.



Excise duty is a form of indirect tax, being that the tax imposed by the government to the manufacturer will be borne by the consumer, not the manufacturer, unlike income tax. Theoretically, the government has made alcohol and tobacco products subject to excise duty as a way to discourage consumption of said products; when it becomes more expensive than it’s supposed to be, you’d think twice about wanting to succumb to your vice.

Okay, fine, I can already hear high-pitched nasal voices in my head saying, “Tu la, padan muka. Sapa suruh you hisap rokok? Kan dah pokai… Huehuehue.

But it’s not just cigarette prices that have been rising. Inflation is inevitable in every country. But sial lah, salary never go up also.

A friend’s elder brother, fresh from university in 1997, was offered RM2,500.00 for his first job as a mechanical engineer. That year, a roti canai was 80 sen. McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger was in the neighbourhood of RM4.00.

Let’s fast forward to today. A piece of roti canai can cost you RM1.50, almost double the price in 1997. A Double Cheeseburger is now sold at RM7.65 (not including tax). Again, it’s about twice the price it was 16 years ago.

However, a mechanical engineer today can expect to be paid around RM3,000.00.

That’s only a 20% increase from the aforementioned year.

In a recent article, Dina Zaman argued that housewives know the state of the Malaysian economy best, because they feel the brunt of a tightening budget directly when they buy their groceries.

With all due respect to Dina, it’s not just housewives who can immediately feel this economic pressure. Every working Malaysian suffers the same, irrespective of gender, marital status or occupation.

We live only to pay the bills. We live to service our loans. We become slaves to keeping up with social standards.

For us KLites, the middle class trapped in this concrete jungle of Malaysia’s attempt to resemble a first world metropolis, the situations we end up in would be one of the following: (1) we have very little savings from our own pay; (2) we’re not pleased with our salary’s ability to balance our need to save and our desire to spoil ourselves; and/or (3) we’re still somewhat financially aided by our parents (like living under the same roof with them or – I won’t judge – still getting ang pows from Mommy and Daddy).

After toiling at work day in and day out, I really don’t want to impose austerity measures on myself. After all, I live in the Brand Age. I want to buy things from the most culturally relevant brands. I want to get critically acclaimed products. But I also want to ensure that I have enough money come retirement.

This article from The Edge Malaysia reveals that the income disparity in Malaysia has caused our country’s household debts to be one of the highest in the world:

“‘It is not only worrying that the ratio of household debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) has been rising heavily over the past two decades. A more alarming concern is that the ratio of household debt-to-disposable income stood at 140% (as at the writing publication date of December 17-23, 2012), making it one of the highest in the world, and above even the US crisis level of 123%.”

To believe in the Malaysian equivalent of the American Dream — where if you worked hard enough, you would make it big or at least live comfortably — is to be unrealistically optimistic, bordering on foolish. The real Malaysian Dream is to create contacts in the political and corporate fields, with the hope that it leads to some percentages from multi-million-ringgit government projects.

For those of us who working 9-to-5 jobs, we’re just living for the sake of living. And yes, most of our working hours extend beyond 5pm.

And for us single men who want to get married, oh fuck, haven’t all of us thought of the cost of giving our prospective brides and mother-in-laws the Disney-esque fairytale weddings they’ve been dreaming of?

Sial lah, that’s another reason to take a loan.

I don’t know if there will be a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to this.

I don’t know which one is more likely to happen: working Malaysians feeling very satisfied with their salaries, or being successful at using the “Have you got a light?” pick-up line.

ISSUE Magazine is an open platform for creatives to share their work. It is a monthly online publication, with each ISSUE centered around a particular theme. In other words, each ISSUE will focus on an...

5 replies on “Auto-psychoanalysis: Of Sarah Tan, Dunhill Lights and The Malaysian Dream”


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  3. Listen! If you believe that Obama will also provide Four billion retooling tax credits and loan guarantees for staeside automobile factories and parts manufacturers, so that the new fuel efficientcars can be made in the United States by domestic workers rather than offshore.

  4. To expand on your point about cost of living vs salary, the actual reality for the majority is worse than that. Your estimate of RM3,000 for fresh graduates is very optimistic. Truth is, fresh graduate engineers cannot expect to be paid RM 3,000. Trust me, I'm an engineer. I was lucky that my first job paid RM2, 000, and rose quickly. Some of my classmates had to make do with a starting salary of RM1,700 and pittance increments.

    And with PTPTN loans, car loans, house rent, expensive food…there isn't any money left over for cigarettes. Thus neither will working Malaysians be satisfied with their salaries nor will the “Have you got a light?” line be successful. Sorry, bro. Reality is harsh.

  5. Errrrr…..can you post that Sarah Tan issue here or not? Walau eh…the way you describe it, even my hand and toe digits are at attention..LOL…keep in posting… like your style…

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