KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 28): The government is setting aside the generation endgame (GEG) component in the revised tobacco bill, in order to accelerate its legislation in the Dewan Rakyat, and at the same time enact regulatory control over tobacco and vape products and discourage its use by minors.
“We are of the view that what’s important now is to ensure that control over tobacco products, particularly vape, is prioritised,” Minister of Health Zaliha Mustafa said during a media briefing in Parliament on Tuesday.
“In March, we excluded nicotine gel from the [Ministry of Health’s] Poisons List. There is a gap [to regulate] nicotine gels and vape products… so we came out with a bill that puts aside the GEG first, ensures tighter control of the tobacco products, and includes [restriction of those products to] minors,” she said.
The revised Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, which will be tabled for second reading on Wednesday (Nov 29), has excluded the GEG component which aimed to cut off tobacco consumption by the next generation by restricting the sale of such products to those born after 2006.
Other components that were removed that are worth highlighting include restriction on advertising of vape products once the bill is enacted into law, and similar age restrictions to be imposed on hookah or shisha products and usages.
Zaliha revealed that a petition launched by the Ministry of Health on MySejahtera on Oct 11 had secured some 9.2 million signatories in support of the GEG.
The removal of the component is “solely” due to constitutional arguments, Zaliha said, referring to the Attorney-General (AG)’s comment that such a restriction could be legally challenged as discriminatory.
Asked as to when and how the GEG will be revisited, Zaliha said her ministry would first assess the effectiveness of the revised bill on reducing the number of youth smokers. “If we feel there is a need to revisit the GEG after the assessment, then we will bring it back. But I will not give a timeline,” she said.
When asked to respond to former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s comment on the axing of the GEG as a win for Big Tobacco, Zaliha said: “That’s his personal view. Anyone can say anything.
“I was made to understand that the AG has been consistent on that (the constitutional argument) but he (Khairy) chose to persist with (his comment that the AG signed off the original bill). This new government takes into account the views of the federal agencies, and that is why we came with the decision to decouple the new bill from the GEG,” she said.
Aside from Khairy, The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy had also refuted the recent claim by the AG that his office has been consistent in its stance on the GEG provisions, particularly on whether it is constitutional.
On Nov 20, the think-tank said that representatives of the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) had assured that the GEG provisions were legally sound in all consultation meetings since the bill was first proposed in 2022, including those held by three Parliamentary Special Select Committees (PSSCs).
Malaysia’s National Healthy Morbidity Survey found that 12.3% of Malaysians aged between 15 and 29 years old are smokers (of either conventional or vape products).
While the percentage of conventional smokers among the population saw a slight decline to 21.3% in a 2017 study, compared with 22.8% in 2016, the percentage of e-cigarettes and vape smokers rose to 4.9%, from 3.2%, ostensibly as some users substituted conventional cigarettes with e-cigarettes and vape.
The bill also entails a lower maximum fine for minors found consuming such products, to RM500, from RM5,000 previously. Zaliha explained the lower fines as “educational enforcement”, adding that there is also an option in the legislation to substitute the fine with community service.
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