NOVEMBER 24 — It has recently come to light that the Attorney-General has reservations about the Generational End Game (GEG) component in the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, that is set to be tabled in the current Parliamentary sitting.
Specifically, the AG’s Chambers is of the view that the GEG provision can be challenged in court. Under the initial iteration of the Bill, it was proposed that those born in 2007 and later would be barred from purchasing and using tobacco and tobacco-related products such as cigarettes and vape.
For all intents and purposes, the intention is a noble one. It has been scientifically proven that smoking causes a host of debilitating diseases, including lung cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory ailments, just to cite a few. Each year, it is said that some 27,000 people die from smoking and related diseases.
This becomes a huge burden to the country in terms of productivity loss and medical bills, on top of the social impact such as when a family loses its sole breadwinner.
Put another way, the GEG component will be very helpful in the long run to mitigate the harmful and lethal consequences of smoking. For this I must commend Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa and her predecessor for their foresight in pushing forward this idea.
However, since the AG’s Chambers is of the view that there could be legal constraints in including the GEG component in the Bill, the Health Ministry should consider decoupling that component from the proposed law — for now.
Based on media reports, the Bill is not just about GEG, although it tends to receive the most media coverage. The Bill also seeks to end the commercial sale of tobacco products, denormalise smoking culture and ban the sale of smoking products, including conventional and e-cigarette products, to children. These are important safeguards to lessen the negative impact of smoking and vaping.
Another critical aspect of the Bill is the provision to regulate vaping more stringently. Since earlier this year, liquid nicotine has been lifted from the Poisons Act 1952. This basically allows anyone — regardless of age — to purchase and use products containing liquid nicotine, such as vape.
As we know, vape is a multi-billion-dollar industry and many of our youths are picking up this habit, which may have dire health consequences in the future (it took decades before scientists established a link between smoking and lung cancer).
Vaping needs to be tightly regulated and those under 18 should no longer be allowed to have unencumbered access to products like vape and heated tobacco, which are potentially harmful to their health. The current lacuna with respect to these products needs to be addressed.
This is why I feel that the MOH needs to stand firm and table the Bill soonest so that it could further tighten regulations with respect to smoking as well as fill the lacuna with respect to vape products. As for the GEG component, perhaps it is necessary for MOH to put it on the backburner first — until a viable solution is found, such as amending the Federal Constitution.
There is little time for MOH to lose. It can no longer delay getting this Bill passed in Parliament. The decoupling of the GEG component from the Bill — for now — is a pragmatic, middle-ground approach that addresses current needs and paves the way for healthier Malaysians in the long run.
*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.