Tobacco Bill Committee May Retain GEG Smoking Offence

The tobacco control bill parliamentary select committee discussed dropping Section 17(1)(c) on possession, but keeping Section 17(1)(a) and (b) on the prohibitions of smoking or vaping, or using tobacco or vape products, by anyone born from Jan 1, 2007.

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 9 – The Dewan Rakyat special select committee on the tobacco control bill has discussed maintaining the prohibitions on smoking or vaping, or use of tobacco or vape products, for future generations.

At a meeting yesterday, the parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) generally agreed to retain Section 17(1)(a) and (b) of the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022, but to drop Section 17(1)(c) on the ban of possession of tobacco or vape products for anyone born from January 1, 2007, a source said.

Under Section 17(1)(a), individuals born on January 1, 2007, onwards are prohibited from smoking any tobacco product or substitute tobacco product, while Section 17(1)(b) prohibits these people from using any smoking device.

Contraventions are considered an offence, punishable on conviction with a maximum RM5,000 fine under Section 17(2), although Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin previously said during debate of the bill last August 1 that the government would reduce the maximum fine for generational end game (GEG) offenders to RM500 from RM5,000.

“Section 17(1)(c) will be dropped, but (a) and (b) maintained,” a source, who attended the PSSC’s meeting yesterday, told CodeBlue on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorised to speak to the press.

Yesterday’s meeting, attended by all 13 members of the tobacco bill PSSC chaired by Khairy, was the second meeting by the bipartisan parliamentary committee.

The source who spoke to CodeBlue said some PSSC members, as well as the Attorney-General’s Chambers, wanted to retain the entire Section 17, while some wanted to drop Section 17 entirely altogether.

According to the anonymous source, the rationale cited for not completely removing Section 17 was that “the end game will not be there”.

Despite ultimately agreeing in general to keep Section 17(1)(a) and (b) on the GEG prohibitions of smoking or vaping, or using tobacco or vape products, the PSSC also generally agreed to limit enforcement to point of sale.

Section 13(1) prohibits the sale of tobacco and vape products to anyone born from January 1, 2007, while Section 13(3) prohibits the purchase of such products by individuals born from that date.

“More or less, the meeting agreed to enforce at point of sale, not at private premises, vehicles, or body search,” the source said.

The source added that the meeting generally agreed that in enforcement at the point of sale, it would be the company employing the retailer that would face action, rather than the individual seller.

Issues were raised, however, about small traders who sell cigarettes or vape in an alleyway, rather than in a retail store, or those who run a small grocery shop from their home in rural areas.

According to the source, concerns were raised at the PSSC meeting about the issue of age. An example was given about two people in one car – a 19-year-old who can legally purchase cigarettes leaves them in the vehicle, but an 18-year-old from the GEG group is caught with the tobacco product.

The anonymous source also said that according to the Attorney-General’s Chambers at the PSSC meeting, community service cannot be listed in the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill as an optional punishment for GEG offenders in lieu of a fine – as previously proposed by Khairy last month – “because it’s already in another law”.

Besides that, the issue of jurisdiction of enforcement was raised at the meeting, such as whether certain provisions in the tobacco control law can only be enforced by Customs or the police, instead of the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Concerns of lawsuits against the government over the constitutionality of the proposed tobacco and vape ban for the next generation was mentioned, the source said, citing Article 10 of the Federal Constitution that protects freedom of speech, assembly and association.

“Freedom of choice — that’s what Article 10 is all about,” the source said. “It’s your personal choice whether you want to die or stay healthy.”

The source stressed that the government needs to engage stakeholders and people who will be directly affected by the tobacco control legislation, namely the next generation born from 2007.

According to the source, some adult constituents who smoke cigarettes, use rolled tobacco, or chew tobacco are “very angry” about the tobacco bill, despite the source telling them that the tobacco GEG does not affect them, only the next generation.

Kerajaan mahu jatuh sudah? Tak ada kerja lain? (Government wants to fall already? No other work to do?),” the source quoted their constituents as saying.

To the source’s response quoting Khairy that the cost of treating smoking-related disease far exceeds the revenue collected from tobacco taxes, constituents reportedly told their MP: “If these smokers need treatment in hospital, let them pay for it themselves; no need for the government to pay for them.”

However, the source noted that some of their other constituents were in favour of the tobacco control bill because of religious beliefs that prohibit smoking.

“They asked me what I think of the bill? Is it good or bad? I said ‘yes and no’,” the source said.

“This bill is good for health. I don’t want my grandchildren to be sick because of smoking, but at the same time, I also don’t want my grandchildren to go to jail just because of one stick of cigarette. So why should you criminalise it?”

The version of the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill tabled in Parliament last July 27 however does not propose incarceration for GEG offenders convicted of smoking or vaping. In relation to offences involving the GEG group, only the sale of tobacco or vape products to those born from 2007 is punishable with up to three years’ jail on conviction.

According to the source, the PSSC is set to meet next Tuesday (September 13) to review a draft of the revised bill. The next parliamentary meeting is scheduled for October 3, with the tabling of Budget 2023 set on October 7.

If passed, the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill, one of the most significant pieces of legislation in recent history that envisions a tobacco-free generation, will be Malaysia’s first ever tobacco control Act.

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