KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 – The absence of the new Tobacco Bill and the Act 342 amendment Bill from the King’s Speech in Parliament today signals that the government may not table these legislations in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting.
The government’s legislative priorities are typically set out in the King’s Speech prepared by the government. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s royal address at the opening of the first meeting of the fifth session of the 14th Parliament today, for example, highlighted the Anti-Sexual Harassment Bill 2021.
On health issues, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah’s royal address today simply mentioned existing work by the Ministry of Health (MOH), such as the Covid-19 vaccination programme, the National Covid-19 Testing Strategy, as well as the National Mental Health Strategic Plan 2020-2025.
The King also mentioned the National Vaccine Development Roadmap, besides calling for a careful transition to the Covid-19 endemic phase and urging the public to get their coronavirus booster shot.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin previously said he would table a new Tobacco and Smoking Control Act in this meeting to replace existing tobacco product control laws under the Food Act 1983.
The new Act was due to contain a number of measures and guidelines to not just regulate e-cigarettes and vape products, but also enforce what Khairy described as a “generation endgame” for smoking in the country in the long run.
The new legislation, which also covers vape and e-cigarettes, means that people born after 2005 will never be able to legally purchase tobacco products or vape ever in their lifetime.
Despite the public’s overwhelming support for the ban, based on findings from a two-week survey conducted recently by CodeBlue and the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, opposition against the prohibition has also been mounting, particularly from the tobacco industry.
The Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers, which consists of British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Bhd, JT International Bhd, and Philip Morris (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd – three of the country’s largest tobacco companies — had pointed out that plans to outlaw smoking for the next generation is “untested, unproved, and without scientific evidence”, according to The Edge Malaysia weekly.
The trade group also says the new law could spur illicit tobacco sales, which currently contributes to an annual RM5 billion loss in excise duty and sales tax revenue.
Parliamentarians who spoke to CodeBlue previously were also conflicted over the cohort smoking ban, indicating that the passage of the Bill may not be a smooth sailing affair.
Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and Lembah Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil, both PKR lawmakers, have expressed openness and support for the policy. Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming and Klang MP Charles Santiago are more reticent, calling for greater scrutiny of the law and alternatives to an outright ban.
The omission of the Act 342 Amendment Bill — intended to impose harsher penalties for individuals and businesses over Covid-19 offences – from the King’s Speech also indicates the possibility of the current government dropping proposed amendments to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342) entirely.
Despite Khairy’s intense pursuit to pass the Bill in the last parliamentary meeting, it was eventually postponed — amid widespread public outrage, including among government MPs — to allow for proper consultation and negotiation to take place with lawmakers and stakeholders through the Dewan Rakyat special select committee on health, science and innovation led by Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii.
While the meetings have transpired since, harsher penalties for Covid SOP breaches seem unnecessary now, with the Omicron coronavirus variant seemingly under control despite record high cases and the government’s plans to reopen international borders.
The current Dewan Rakyat meeting, which is scheduled to run until March 24, may be the final meeting before the 15th general election is called amid speculation of a snap poll. The next Dewan Rakyat meeting is only scheduled on July 18.
CodeBlue has tried to reach the health minister’s office for comment.