Tobacco/ Vape GEG Slippery Slope Towards Other Bans – Dennis Quah

We have a chance to get ahead of current innovations in tobacco products with this new Bill, but do not squander the chance just because the government needs to quickly collect taxes.

I refer to the article “Ex-Chief Justice Zaki Calls For GEG Separation From Tobacco Bill”, published on CodeBlue on April 19.

I read the former Chief Justice Tun Zaki Tun Azmi’s eloquent piece on personal liberty issues with regard to the much-debated generational end game (GEG) for tobacco users that was first tabled last year, which will be re-tabled in the next parliamentary sitting.

As a well-practised lawyer and possessing a brilliant legal mind, Zaki argued that the act of banning a certain age group from accessing a product or habit may be potentially contravening Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which proclaims that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law.

The constitutional proclamation inhibits blanket and arbitrary discrimination, and I must add that Article 8 must be interpreted as “operate alike on all persons under like circumstances”, rather than “all persons must be treated alike”.

He illustrated this point further with this scenario: A group of colleagues, all of whom are of legal age, are lighting up during their cigarette break. Despite being at the same location and smoking cigarettes, only one of them is consuming a banned product because he was born in 2007. One wonders where and how did that person purchase it.

The scenario above demonstrates how GEG is discriminatory, as it deprives a generation of consenting adults to exercise their liberty, while others are free to do as they wish in similar circumstances.

“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?” he wrote.

Tun Zaki’s question on whether we have truly exhausted all policy options should seriously be considered.

Apart from curtailing personal freedom and enshrining discrimination, the GEG element in the new Tobacco Control Bill sets a precedent for the government to introduce more legislation that will infringe on an adult’s lifestyle choices.

It is a slippery slope that may be open to abuse and reinforces a paternalistic government-knows-best attitude. What is next on the generation ban list then? Alcohol? Sugary drinks? Fried food? Concerts?

It is also ironic that the government is being overzealous on tobacco, when taking a more liberal approach to the usage of marijuana.

While the Tobacco Control Bill is timely and needed, given the speed of innovation with regard to smokeless products like vape and heated tobacco, the GEG is not.

Why can’t the government introduce a Tobacco Bill that is separate from the GEG? Even if the government wants to push for GEG, can’t it take a phased approach like in New Zealand?

I feel the GEG is a lazy way out to guilt-trip policymakers into supporting the Tobacco Control Bill. It sidetracks the discussion on a more forward-thinking way to regulate the tobacco industry.

It will be interesting to see Malaysian MPs scrutinise the Bill when it is re-tabled, especially with regard to the definition of smoking and vaping.

We have a chance to get ahead of current innovations in tobacco products with this new Bill, but do not squander the chance just because the government needs to quickly collect taxes. Think about the future implications.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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