KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 – The Health Ministry’s proposed generational tobacco ban does not address the problem of the illicit cigarette trade, Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said.
The PKR lawmaker told the government to resolve issues with the tobacco black market while concurrently imposing a prohibition on smoking and vaping that will start with the 2005 generation, who would not be permitted to ever (legally) buy cigarettes or vape products in their lifetime.
“The generational smoking ban for those born after 2005 is a step in the right direction, but it ignores the elephant in the room. There are still many Malaysians who smoke and use illegal cigarettes and tobacco,” Maria said in a press statement yesterday.
“In order for smokers or potential smokers to accept the government’s mandate, enforcers must rethink their monitoring and implementation processes. If they are weak, prohibiting and banning them will not help.
“I don’t see how the youth or the next generation will quit smoking if entry of illegal cigarettes and tobacco are not quelled. Furthermore, if the government continues to turn a blind eye to illegal cigarettes, the problem remains with youth born after 2005 as they will continue to have access to illicit cigarettes.”
Maria was among 40 MPs polled by CodeBlue last Monday and Tuesday on their stance on the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill.
The Petaling Jaya MP – who was one of 26 lawmakers reserving their judgement pending publication of the draft legislation – told CodeBlue that punishing licensed retailers under the ban would be unfair as illegal distributors and retailers operating the tobacco black market would get away scot free.
Among the eight women lawmakers of 40 MPs polled by CodeBlue, only two openly said that they would vote for the proposed tobacco control law: PKR vice president and Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and former deputy prime minister and Pandan MP Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Muar MP and Muda president Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman aged 29 has similarly raised concerns about a potential expansion of the illicit cigarette trade from Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vape to anyone born from January 1, 2005.
The cigarette black market has always been touted by tobacco companies to push back against moves to raise taxes on cigarettes and now, the government’s proposed generational tobacco ban.
Maria, however, said in her statement that cigarette prices should be raised to discourage low and middle-income people from buying these “death sticks”.
“To prevent the entry of illegal cigarettes, stricter enforcement and patrols should be implemented.”
The Opposition MP also pointed out that the previous Pakatan Harapan (PH) government had banned smoking in public areas, particularly restaurants, leading to a “significant decrease” in the number of people smoking in public.
“However, since the change of government, this law has not been enforced, resulting in smokers once again smoking in public.”
Khairy tweeted earlier today that the first six months of this year had the highest number of enforcement actions against smoking in public areas at 30,311 notices issued, compared to 21,876 in the same period in 2019, the year that PH started enforcing a no-smoking rule at all restaurants, including open-air eateries.
From January to June 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, the number of enforcement actions against smoking in public areas fell to 16,844 notices issued under Section 32B of the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004.
In the same period last year, amid pandemic lockdown measures, the number of notices issued fell to 6,111.
Rakan Strategik Gegar Wanita – a coalition comprising the Malaysian Women for Tobacco Control and Health Association (MyWatch), along with several health non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – urged women MPs earlier today to support Khairy’s proposed generational end game to smoking and vaping proposed in the tobacco bill.