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Thursday, November 30, 2023

Dewan Rakyat passes Smoking Control Bill sans GEG

PARLIAMENT | The Dewan Rakyat has passed the revised Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill via a voice vote today.

This comes after an extensive and challenging process since the bill was proposed for the first time in 2022.

The newly passed bill was the Health Ministry’s third attempt to enact legislation on the anti-smoking and vape control bill.

The bill prohibits the sale of tobacco products, smoking substances, or substitute tobacco products or providing any services for smoking to a minor.

During a heated session of debates involving 27 MPs, lawmakers from both sides of the political divide criticised the bill for dropping the tobacco and vape generational end game (GEG) provisions.

In her winding-up speech of the debate on the bill today, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa said she understood the views and concerns regarding the drop of the GEG provision.

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa

“It was a collective decision, a joint responsibility of the government, referring to the view of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), there is an issue of inequality or discrimination of legal position in the GEG provision.

“Therefore, AGC was of the view that the provision could be challenged in court, as it violated Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.

“Although it is true that MPs are the ones who draft laws, the opinion and advice from the AGC should be taken into account in drafting any law so that it doesn’t contradict existing laws, especially the Federal Constitution,” she added.

Previously, health watchdog CodeBlue reported that Attorney-General Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh was of the opinion that the GEG provisions were “unconstitutional” because they violated Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which guaranteed equality before the law.

Tougher enforcement

The health minister assured that a much stricter enforcement will guarantee the effectiveness of the bill in reducing smoking prevalence among the public, as reported in a few countries such as Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

“Although the GEG provision was not included in this bill, it does not mean that the Health Ministry takes the smoking problem in the country lightly.

"Instead, we will continue to intensify advocacy activities to prevent smoking habits,” Zaliha said.

On Tuesday, at a media briefing, she explained that the ministry was putting aside the GEG clause to focus on the revised bill, saying “it will not be forgotten”.

“Once the bill is passed, we will monitor this and see how it goes. We will look at the impact and effects as well as the smoking percentage.

“If we feel there is a need to relook at it (GEG), and there is a need for the GEG (provision), we will bring it back,” she said.

Before concluding her winding-up speech in the august house, she expressed her appreciation to her predecessors who worked towards handling smoking problems.

“If I may name (Dr) S Subramaniam, Dzulkefly Ahmad, (Dr) Adham Baba and also Khairy Jamaluddin for their efforts in trying to tackle smoking problems in Malaysia in general, especially in developing the bill that we have passed," she said.

Ex-health minister Khairy Jamaluddin

On Nov 15, Khairy accused several ministers of blocking the legislation aimed at making it illegal for those born after 2007 to buy or consume nicotine products.

Khairy, the architect of the original bill, said the cabinet’s handling of the matter was “absolutely shambolic”.

When the GEG provisions were dropped from the bill on Tuesday, Khairy congratulated the big tobacco and vape industry, claiming that the latter had “won”. - Mkini

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