AUGUST 3 ― The Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 (Bill No. 29/2022), now widely known as the Generational End Game (GEG) Bill, can be considered as a proposed law on public health. It should therefore reflect at least three principles ― duty, power, and restraint.
The first is the principle that the law should impose duties on the government to promote health and well-being within the population. The second is the principle that the law should afford public health authorities ample power to regulate individuals and businesses to achieve the communal benefits of health and security.
The power to regulate may seem at odds with civil liberties of the people. But individuals cannot exercise civil or political rights or enjoy life without a certain measure of health.
To ensure the communal benefits of health ― and security ― which individuals would not be able to do, like clean air and water, safe products, healthy workplaces, and control of infectious diseases, the government needs to be given adequate powers to regulate.
Public health legislation therefore affords authorities the power, ample and adequate, to set standards of health and safety and to ensure compliance.
The third principle is a restraint on the government from overreaching in the name of public health. Public health authorities, given the power to regulate, should respect ― to the extent possible ― individual autonomy, liberty and privacy, and proprietary rights.
They should act only on the basis of clear criteria where necessary to protect the community. (See Lawrence O Gostin, “Public Health Law Reform”, Am J Public Health, 91(9), 2001, pp. 1365-1368)
That is why the decision by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin to refer the GEG Bill to a parliamentary select committee (PSC) to scrutinise the Bill is the right call and must be lauded.
The committee of the whole House to which a Bill of Parliament is committed at the second reading has, in the past, proved to be an unwieldy committee to review a Bill.
Now, at the second reading of the Bill, Khairy said that several tweaks would be made on the GEG Bill. This was to ensure bipartisan support for the much-anticipated law.
The Bill, he said, was “too-important a piece of legislation for it to not receive broad bipartisan support from everyone.”
“This is going to be the first in the world,” added Khairy. Malaysia would be referred to as the first country in the world.
But that is only because New Zealand’s Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill has been referred to the country’s PSC. The NZ government aims to pass the Bill only by December.
If the GEG Bill is “too-important”, there is no need to rush it. The smoke-free generation which the Bill aims to achieve would only be in 2025.
At the second reading also, Khairy called himself a minister who would want to listen.
“Saya dengar, saya bukan jenis Menteri yang tidak hendak dengar. Saya jenis Menteri yang hendak dengar supaya kita cuba dapat sokongan bipartisan daripada semua ini,” he said.
Khairy was true to his words. He has led by listening.
God willing, he would lead the country to a world-first legislation that would in turn lead to a smoke-free generation.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.