KUALA LUMPUR, April 25 – Khairy Jamaluddin today delivered an impassioned speech against smoking, vowing to fight the illicit tobacco trade and to prevent future generations from ever knowing a cigarette.
The health minister – in his speech at the launch of the Gegar-18 campaign at SMK Bandar Seri Putra in Selangor on the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) proposed generational end game to smoking – acknowledged the huge black market for cigarettes in Malaysia.
But he questioned why this should stop the government from having bigger ambitions to curb the smoking problem through a prohibition on cigarettes, tobacco, and vape for anyone born from January 1, 2005, who will not be able to legally buy such products ever in their lifetime.
“Believe me, if we get to pass this bill, MOH will work with all enforcement agencies,” Khairy said, referring to the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill that he plans to table in Parliament in July.
“We’ll ensure that we can enforce the generational end game and, at the same time, we go all out. We declare war on the black market for cigarettes and we stamp it out once and for all.
“Don’t tell me that we shouldn’t have high ambitions, that just because there’s an illicit cigarette market and a black market, we can’t do this.
“I’ve never heard such defeatist sentiments – ‘we can’t do it, it’s better if we do it only through education’. Of course we’ll continue awareness and education campaigns, but the problem is that we know that the science is very, very clear on the dangers of smoking.”
Nielsen’s 2021 illicit cigarettes study found that the prevalence of illegal cigarettes in Malaysia dropped by 6.5 percentage points from a record 63.8 per cent in 2020 to 57.3 per cent last year.
The New Straits Times reported the Confederation of Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers as saying last March that Malaysia is the biggest illicit cigarette market in the world.
Khairy also pointed out that MOH issued more compounds for smoking in prohibited public areas in the first three months of this year than previous years.
“My warning to those who still smoke in eateries, ignoring the no-smoking signs, I’m coming for you. We’re coming for you.”
He said the government’s war against tobacco was not just about asking people not to smoke, but also to help current smokers quit by increasing stop-smoking services and widening access to smoking cessation products.
The health minister launched last Friday MOH’s mQuit stop-smoking programme at mosques to enable Muslim smokers who go for Friday prayers to get counselling at the place of worship on quitting the habit.
Khairy said he has asked for easier access to purchase nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products in pharmacies. NRT products like the patch and gum are not available over-the-counter in Malaysia and must be dispensed by a pharmacist.
He added that he has also requested for a reduction or exemption of excise duties on NRT products. The Customs Department recently gazetted import duty of 15 per cent per kg on nicotine gum, effective June 1.
Khairy said the government will not ban e-cigarettes or vape products, but will regulate these so that such products will not be attractive to young people. Malaysia’s vape market is currently unregulated – e-cigarettes are sold either with pre-filled pods or with separate made-to-order vape juices that come in all sorts of flavours.
He said if Parliament passes the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill – which contains the proposed prohibition on the sale of cigarettes, tobacco, and vape products to those born after 2005 – Malaysia will be the first country in the world to ban smoking and vaping for future generations.
If approved by Parliament, those born from January 1, 2005, will not be permitted to buy conventional or e-cigarettes as soon as January 1 next year when they turn 18, Malaysia’s current legal age for smoking.
Besides New Zealand’s cohort smoking prohibition that targets anyone born after 2008, Denmark recently announced plans to ban the sale of cigarettes and other nicotine-based products to anyone born after 2010.
Khairy said the reported statistic of 20,000 annual deaths from smoking was likely under-reported, noting that smoking-related mortality would be higher if other diseases like heart attacks are taken into account.
“The government faces RM273 billion in losses from premature deaths caused by smoking-related complications, work absenteeism due to health problems, and lesser productivity due to poor health.
“This is not a question of – ‘my choice only’. This has an effect on other people’s health, the national economy, and the country’s productivity.”