KUALA LUMPUR, April 19 – Former Chief Justice Zaki Azmi has voiced his concerns about the potential socio-economic impact of the generational end game (GEG) and has called for its removal from the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023.
Zaki called for a more thorough review and deliberation of the proposed generational tobacco ban, or GEG, citing concerns over its constitutionality, enforcement, and practicality.
“The GEG should not be at the forefront of the Tobacco Bill at this point of time. It should be decoupled and subjected to a comprehensive review given its socio-economic impact,” Zaki wrote in a letter to Malay Mail today.
While Zaki recognised the aspirations of the GEG, he cautioned that a generational tobacco ban may violate Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality and equal protection under the law.
He explained that Article 8 should be interpreted as the law having to “operate alike on all persons under like circumstances”, rather than “all persons must be treated alike”.
“It is undeniable that the road to a tobacco-free society is paved with good intentions, but have we truly exhausted all policy options before risking a radical, abrupt, and untested approach? I urge the government to tread with conscience as this could lead to another Pandora’s box of abuse and erosion of civil liberties,” Zaki stated..
Zaki used a hypothetical scenario to illustrate his point: a group of colleagues, all of legal age, are smoking cigarettes during a break. However, only one of them is violating the law because he was born after January 1, 2007. Zaki argued that the GEG deprives consenting adults of their liberty and creates opportunities for corruption.
“Despite the trappings of an ambitious piece of legislation, one simply cannot turn a blind eye to the inextricable legal perils it (the GEG) presents,” Zaki stressed.
While expressing his reservation, Zaki reaffirmed his support for a society free of cigarettes and urged the government to acknowledge combustible cigarettes as the most harmful way to consume nicotine.
However, Zaki said vaping and other alternatives have been found to be less harmful than combustible cigarettes when proper controls are implemented.
Zaki recommended that the government should look to countries like Japan, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand for guidance on how to regulate these products based on their risk profiles, with “cigarettes being the most harmful” and “vaping at the lower end” of the risk spectrum.
Zaki emphasised the importance of harm reduction and urged policymakers to adopt a pragmatic approach in recognizing that nicotine addiction cannot be eliminated overnight.
“Rather than an arbitrary cut-off point of access, the government introduces less harmful cigarette alternatives in the market as a go-to option.
“Despite a much lower smoking prevalence compared to Malaysia, New Zealand’s comprehensive vape regulation demonstrates that endgame tobacco strategy must be supplemented with a harm reduction approach during the transitional phase.
“The refusal to acknowledge the chokehold nicotine addiction has on smokers is a policy failure and it will simply turn them away from seeking help; or worse, to unregulated illicit cigarettes or vapes in the black market,” Zaki stated.
Zaki believes that by adopting a harm reduction strategy, the government can take a more compassionate approach to addiction and give itself the necessary time to assess the situation before implementing a potentially controversial law.
“The GEG is ideal; but we do not live in an ideal world. Generational goals require transitional measures. Policymakers need to bite the bullet and embrace new technology in nicotine delivery to wean society off harmful cigarettes.
“The harm reduction approach is not contradictory to the endgame legislation; it is the much-needed stop-gap measure to phase out cigarettes from future generations.”