KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 — The declassification of liquid nicotine as a scheduled poison – legally allowing minors access to e-cigarettes with nicotine – goes against the “spirit” of the Child Act 2001, the children’s commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) said today.
Suhakam Children’s Commissioner Farah Nini Dusuki, a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaya’s law faculty with over three decades’ experience in human rights and child law, cited the preamble of the Child Act that acknowledges that children require “special safeguards, care, and assistance”.
She said this included “protection from a smoke and nicotine-infested environment”.
“It is the State’s responsibility to ensure that children are not exposed to anything that may endanger their physical and emotional health,” Farah said in a statement released today.
“Despite ample evidence linking nicotine and toxic substances of e-cigarettes to brain development damage, the government’s decisions put children in Malaysia at a higher risk of nicotine addiction.”
Drawing attention to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (CRC) – which Malaysia has ratified, Farah highlighted Article 24 that protects the right of the child to the “highest attainable standard of health”.
“Under Section 2(f) of the same article, Malaysia is obligated to implement preventive health care measures to promote and protect this right,” she said.
By removing liquid and gel nicotine from the Poisons List, Farah noted that this could implicitly permit the use of e-cigarettes and vape products with nicotine by those aged under 18, as Section 17 of the Poisons Act 1952 – which prohibits the sale of poisons to anyone aged under 18 years, except for purposes of medical treatment – would no longer apply.
“While the CC (Children’s Commissioner) recognises the government’s efforts to reduce tobacco consumption by increasing tobacco taxes, this should not be confused with opening the floodgates to new users of nicotine-related products, especially children,” Farah said.
“It remains questionable whether taxing buyers of e-cigarettes will truly generate revenue and positively contribute to the economy.
“Concurrently, the delisting of nicotine will lead to more cases of lung-related diseases and injuries, adding to the already strained public healthcare system and increasing health care expenditure. This directly contradicts the Ministry of Health’s goal of reducing the number of smokers from 40 per cent to 15 per cent by 2025.”
Farah urged the unity government to continue commitments to building a smoke-free environment, “as started by its predecessor”.
“Neglecting this commitment will have intergenerational consequences on children’s health and the environment, putting the concept of ‘Malaysia Madani’ in jeopardy. This concept focuses on sustainable development, encompassing not only economic aspects but also social and environmental well-being.”
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa exercised her ministerial powers to exempt liquid nicotine from control under the Poisons Act in an order gazetted last Friday, overruling the Poisons Board that unanimously rejected the proposal. Excise duty of 40 sen per ml of e-liquids containing nicotine was subsequently put into effect from April 1.
Malaysia currently has no regulations whatsoever on vape or e-cigarettes with nicotine, such as restrictions on sale to minors under 18; locations for sale; ingredients, nicotine content, or volume of e-liquids for sale; as well as labelling requirements and warnings or bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship.