Expert: MPs Slamming Generational Smoking Ban Sound Like Big Tobacco

Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman addresses arguments by Anwar Ibrahim, Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng, Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah, and Subang MP Wong Chen (Wong supports the tobacco bill).

KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 – Public health expert Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman reiterated his call to MPs to support the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill that will outlaw smoking and vaping for the next generation. 

Dr Lokman wrote an open letter to the heads of every major political party in Malaysia, most of whom are also Members of Parliament, telling them that they had a “moral obligation” to vote in favour of the ambitious tobacco control legislation that is due to be tabled in the current Parliament meeting.

The former Health deputy director-general (public health) said he has read comments by various political leaders about the tobacco bill in the mainstream news or on social media.

“I am rather upset by their rhetorical remarks that are either not in support, that are baseless concerns, or placing conditions for support, much of which are of the same tone as the industry,” Dr Lokman said on Facebook yesterday.

The public health expert went on to address every MP who has publicly raised concerns in the media over Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s proposal to prohibit the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vape to anyone born from January 1, 2005.

First, in response to Opposition Leader and PKR president Anwar Ibrahim who told CodeBlue that the tobacco bill shouldn’t be “bulldozed” without consultation with people like Orang Asli, Dr Lokman pointed out that the tobacco bill was among the pieces of legislation drafted by the Ministry of Health (MOH) that took the longest time to reach this point.

“I know this because I myself was involved in re-drafting it when I was in the position of Health deputy director-general (public health) after we failed to get Cabinet’s approval in 2016 to ban vape as the Cabinet wanted it to be controlled instead,” said Dr Lokman.

Khairy’s touted “generational end game” (GEG) to smoking and vaping, however, is a new addition to the years’ old tobacco bill, mirroring New Zealand’s government that announced in December 2021 that it would ban the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products (excluding vape) to anyone born after 2008.

Dr Lokman also questioned Subang MP Wong Chen on why the PKR lawmaker compared the tobacco control bill to a finance bill like the goods and services tax (GST). 

“This bill is also not related to national security or public harmony that would necessitate a review or a sunset clause,” Dr Lokman said. 

Wong had suggested a sunset clause in the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill that would enable Parliament to drop certain policies after a certain period of time, such as one or two years, if those policies were found to be ineffective. 

Wong is one of the few MPs who publicly supports the GEG, telling BFM that his support was conditional on looking at the draft bill.

“I want to ask, which Bill needs to prove its effectiveness before tabling in Parliament?” Dr Lokman questioned.

He pointed out that Australia imposed plain packaging laws on tobacco – which require tobacco products to be packaged in a certain colour and to display brand names in certain ways – based on behavioural science and the influence of display, without prior evidence.

“As a result, Australia showed a 25 per cent drop in smoking prevalence between 2012 and 2015 because of plain packaging.”

Dr Lokman asked Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng from the DAP why he cited Bhutan’s failed experiment in banning tobacco, instead of looking at Brunei that has banned smoking, Singapore that has banned vape, or Australia with plain packaging legislation.

“Don’t claim that our borders are easily penetrated because of our coasts and wide borders. The borders of other developed countries are far bigger than Malaysia.”

The public health expert told Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah from PKR that her cited “elephant in the room”, in reference to the illicit tobacco market and cigarette smuggling, could be addressed by giving the authorities the “bullets” they need.

“The elephant will continue to remain in the room as long as we don’t do something to improve the process and working environment of enforcement agencies,” Dr Lokman said.

“We must destroy the culture of corruption in our country right down to its roots. But is it moral for us to delay protecting the next generation until all of this happens?”

A CodeBlue poll held among 40 MPs across the aisle from July 18 to 19 only showed a dozen who openly supported the proposed generational smoking ban. 

Among the party presidents or senior party leaders approached by CodeBlue – namely Anwar, DAP national chairman Lim Guan Eng, and Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi – not one expressed support for the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill in its current form. 

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, however, has shown his support for the GEG, based on photographs of the Marang MP posing with placards with Khairy on the bill that were shared by the health minister on social media.

It is unclear if Khairy is open to substantially revising the bill or the cohort-based tobacco ban based on either recommendations from the bipartisan Dewan Rakyat special select committee on health, science and innovation, or suggestions from other MPs or parties.

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