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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

GEG up in smoke, lawmakers grill health minister


PARLIAMENT | Several lawmakers have trained their guns on Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa after the ministry dropped the tobacco and vape generational end game (GEG) provisions from the revised Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill.

MPs from both sides of the political divide did not mince their words in the Dewan Rakyat today when alleging that Zaliha and her ministry had kowtowed to tobacco lobbyists and industry players to snuff out the GEG clause from the bill.

This is despite Zaliha asserting yesterday that the only reason why the provision was dropped from the revised bill is because the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC’s) view the GEG clause as “unconstitutional”.

Hassan Abdul Karim (Harapan–Pasir Gudang), when debating the bill in the august house today, reminded Zaliha that MPs are the lawmakers, not the attorney-general (AG).

“About Article 8 (which guaranteed equality before the law)... those who can interpret the law are not the AG or MPs but the judges in court.

“If we are wrong and it’s against the Federal Constitution, other quarters can bring it to court and say that the law (passed) at the Parliament is ultra vires.

“It’s the court that decides, not the AG as the gatekeeper. If that’s the case, then we don’t need the Parliament. We’ll just let the AG and the cabinet ministers make the laws,” he said.

He also expressed disappointment that the government had voluntarily withdrawn the GEG clause without putting up a fight.

“We, as politicians, want to save the next generation. Even though there are quarters who do not agree, we should still table it (the GEG provisions).

“Not everyone in Parliament will support it, there will be those who oppose it. (But) we have withdrawn without even debating it. We have lost to the lobbyists from the tobacco industry,” he added.

Mohd Suhaimi Abdullah (PN-Langkawi) also echoed Hassan’s sentiments.

Suhaimi had pressed Zaliha to tell the “truth” on why the GEG section was removed from the revised bill.

“If there were disputes raised that the GEG can be challenged for not giving equal rights to the people, then why was public health interest not used to defend the inclusion of the GEG provision in the bill?” he questioned.

Ahmad Yunus Hairi (PN–Kuala Langat), who is also a member of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee for Health, revealed that the committee had held 11 meetings on the bill since June and did not find any “serious issues” to mark the GEG clause as in “violation of Article 8”.

Ahmad Yunus Hairi

“I think our chairperson (Dzulkefly) can confirm this. In a report by CodeBlue, an AG’s senior representative did not raise any discussions that it (the GEG) is unconstitutional."

GEG could have avoided smoking-related deaths

Meanwhile, R Yuneswaran (PH–Segamat) bemoaned that the decision to drop the GEG provision was a move to “constitutionally kill the people by allowing cigarettes to them”.

“I am very disappointed and I am confident that the minister (Zaliha) may be under pressure from those who are crazy for cigarettes and who want to save the tobacco companies that are willing to see the people die. But you want to defend the (Federal) Constitution. This is very unethical and I am against this law.

“I hope that the lobbyists who are watching out there (know)... You are responsible for every life that dies because of cigarettes, which otherwise could have been saved with the GEG,” he said.

However, when asked by Ahmad Marzuk Shaary (PN-Pengkalan Chepa) if he would support the bill during voting, Yuneswaran responded in the affirmative, stressing that he was against the GEG being dropped.

On Nov 15, former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin 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 current cabinet’s handling of the matter was “absolutely shambolic”.

Previously, a source in the Health Ministry told Malaysiakini that tobacco lobbyists were also exerting pressure on the government to torpedo the GEG. - Mkini

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