Lukanisman: MOH To Bring Tobacco Bill To Cabinet, Stakeholder Engagements Still Needed

Deputy Health Minister Lukanisman Awang Sauni says MOH will bring a Cabinet paper to table the tobacco bill in the next Parliament meeting, adding that stakeholder engagements are still needed. The vape industry also wants GEG on tobacco first before vape.

KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 – Lukanisman Awang Sauni yesterday revealed shockingly that the Cabinet has yet to approve the tobacco and vape control bill for tabling in the next parliamentary meeting.

The deputy health minister said he had told the vape industry during a recent stakeholder engagement meeting that the Ministry of Health (MOH) intends to bring the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill in the upcoming parliamentary meeting.

“MOH will put forward a Cabinet paper to the Cabinet to table the bill in the second parliamentary meeting that begins on May 22,” Lukanisman told CodeBlue yesterday.

“I have stated that the bill must be passed to balance the impact of nicotine on public health following the government’s decision to exempt liquid nicotine in electronic cigarettes or vape from the Poisons Act 1952.

“The impact of the government’s decision has caused a lacuna in regulation and enforcement.”

Lukanisman’s statement raises questions as to why the government through the Cabinet – which includes Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa – declassified liquid nicotine to begin with from last March 31, despite (presumably) knowing that this would allow e-cigarettes and vape to be completely unregulated since the tobacco bill has yet to be passed by the current 15th Parliament.

It also begs the question as to why Dr Zaliha and Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim previously announced that the tobacco bill would be tabled in the next parliamentary meeting in May – if the Cabinet has yet to approve it, as per Lukanisman’s statement.

“The tabling of the bill was delayed due to split reactions among MPs on the issue of the generational end game (GEG), which caused the bill that was previously tabled [in the 14th Parliament] to be brought to a parliamentary special select committee. That committee had recommended improvements to the bill, but it could not be tabled due to the dissolution of the [14th] Parliament.”

Then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin tabled the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill last July in the 14th Parliament, but failed to get it passed after multiple MPs on both sides of the divide opposed provisions on enforcement powers that they deemed to be excessive. The GEG provision in the bill had also proposed banning tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007.

However, today, there is a new Parliament and a new government – they are not bound by sentiments or policies from the previous Parliament or administration and have the complete liberty to pass legislations that were not approved by the previous Parliament.

Dr Zaliha even held briefings with government and Opposition MPs last March 14 on the tobacco bill that has been renamed the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023. Yet, the bill was not tabled in the last parliamentary meeting.

Lukanisman also told CodeBlue that vape industry players, at his meeting with them, expressed support for the GEG – but for the generational ban to be imposed on tobacco products first before vape.

He said some vape entrepreneurs and manufacturers had also proposed restricting vape sales to specific premises rather than an open market, restrictions on advertising, and product design aimed at attracting children.

“In the discussion, I raised a few issues that have triggered concern on the sale of vape to minors and I urged them to self-regulate sales to children and teenagers, like the current regulations for cigarettes, on the basis of morality,” Lukanisman said, adding that MOH does not have any proposal for the vape industry to “self-regulate” nicotine content.

“I reiterated that the tabling of this bill is very important to enable regulations for vape and smokers. Members of Parliament have the moral responsibility to support the bill if they feel that health is a priority.”

He added that MOH takes into account concerns from “netizens” about the “recent decision”, and that briefing sessions have been conducted for those who favour the tobacco bill and the GEG.

“MOH is committed, in line with the Prime Minister’s guarantee of support for the GEG agenda, but engagements need to be done.”

The next Dewan Rakyat meeting is a short one scheduled only for 11 days – four days from May 22 to 25 and seven the following month from June 6 to 15.

It’s unclear what “netizens” that Lukanisman was referring to. Top health care professionals and organisations – including well-respected toxicologist and pharmacist Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, who is the rector of International Islamic University Malaysia, as well as the National Poison Centre at Universiti Sains Malaysia that is a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Drug Information in the Western Pacific region – have openly slammed the removal of liquid nicotine from the Poisons List.

The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), an umbrella anti-tobacco body of 41 organisations, and the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the largest doctors’ organisation in the country, have expressed dissatisfaction with Dr Zaliha’s explanation to them on the government’s decision to remove liquid nicotine from control as a Class C poison in order to tax e-liquids with nicotine from last April 1.

The health minister had gazetted the order for the exemption with her ministerial powers, vetoing the Poisons Board that had unanimously objected to the proposed exclusion.

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