Poll Shows Moderate Bipartisan Support For Tobacco And Vape Bill

In a CodeBlue poll of 31 MPs on both sides of the aisle, nearly half at 14 MPs – 6 (PH), 2 (BN), 1 (Muda), 1 (PBM), 4 (PN) – openly support the tobacco & vape bill. 15 MPs – 9 (PH), 1 (BN), 1 (Warisan), 4 (PN) – reserve their stand pending bill’s tabling.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — Parliamentarians on both sides of the divide have openly expressed their backing for the tobacco and vape control bill, although support in the House may be split — not along party lines, but personal inclinations.

In a CodeBlue poll carried out last May 2 to 5 with 31 MPs from the government backbench and the Opposition, nearly half, or 14 lawmakers, said they would vote in favour of the bill that the unity government has renamed as the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023 in the current 15th Parliament. Others were mostly undecided; no one directly opposed the bill.

Last March, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa, who is also Sekijang MP from PKR, and Ministry of Health (MOH) officials held separate briefings for government and Opposition MPs on the bill that proposes a ban on tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007, also known as the generational end game (GEG), before the expected tabling of the bill in the Dewan Rakyat later this month.

Among the 14 MPs supporting the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill were six from Pakatan Harapan (PH) – five from PKR and one from DAP. The five of seven PKR MPs polled who directly supported the bill were Hassan Abdul Karim (Pasir Gudang), Lee Chean Chung (Petaling Jaya), Rodziah Ismail (Ampang), Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh (Ledang), and Wong Chen (Subang). The sole MP among eight DAP lawmakers polled who openly supported the bill was Dr Kelvin Yii (Bandar Kuching).

Dr Yii was recently appointed special advisor to Health Minister Dr Zaliha and was a member of the parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) from the 14th Parliament on the 2022 iteration of the bill, the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 that was tabled by then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin last July in the 14th Parliament.

Two of three Barisan Nasional (BN) lawmakers polled also openly expressed support for the 2023 tobacco and vape bill: Wanita Umno chief and former minister Noraini Ahmad (Parit Sulong), as well as MCA president and former minister Wee Ka Siong (Ayer Hitam).

Departing from his previous stance on the 2022 bill before its tabling, Muda president and Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman now openly supports the 2023 bill even before it has been tabled.

“I look forward to supporting the bill. The minister has been proactive in engaging NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and MPs. I personally attended some of the sessions. Commitments have been made by the ministry to reach a middle ground by listening to all sides. I applaud this,” Syed Saddiq, a former minister, told CodeBlue.

“In principle, I will vote in support and will propose suggestions on how we can make this bill better when the full details are out. I look forward to a bill which is backed up by data and science. Evidence-based decision making will be given priority.”

Another government backbencher who openly backed the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill was Parti Bangsa Malaysia (PBM) president and Julau MP Larry Sng.

Among the 23 government MPs polled, less than half at 10 openly expressed support for the bill.

Pasir Gudang MP Hassan Abdul Karim from PKR said he has openly supported the tobacco and vape bill from “Day One” for future generations.

“I did attend the briefing by the Ministry of Health in Kuala Lumpur last March and in front of our Health Minister Dr Zaliha, I affirmed my promise to support the anti-smoking and anti-vape bill, whatever the correct name of the bill. But, sad to say, I disagree with the government’s action to withdraw vape from the Poisons List,” Hassan told CodeBlue, referring to the recent exemption of liquid nicotine from control under the Poisons Act 1952.

Half Of Eight Opposition MPs Polled Openly Support Tobacco and Vape Bill

Four of eight MPs from Opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional (PN) polled said they would support the tobacco and vape control bill: three of five polled from PAS – Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi (Kuala Langat), Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man (Kubang Kerian), and Nik Muhammad Zawawi Salleh (Pasir Puteh) – as well as one of three polled from Bersatu, Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal (Machang), who is also Bersatu Youth chief.

PAS deputy president Tuan Ibrahim said “the country needs to shift from treatment to health prevention programmes”. Meanwhile, Dr Ahmad Yunus, who heads PN’s health portfolio, described the GEG as a “huge agenda for the country’s health and economy”.

“Even though revenue from collection of excise duties on tobacco amounted to about RM3 billion, the country spent more than RM6 billion to treat smoking-related diseases the previous year,” Dr Ahmad Yunus told CodeBlue.

“Without a clear Act, how can the country control electronic cigarettes and vape with liquid or gel nicotine that causes addiction and other illnesses? What kind of controls can we implement, especially for young people?”

Like PKR lawmaker Hassan, PAS MP Dr Ahmad Yunus criticised the delisting of liquid nicotine before the enactment of a tobacco and vape control Act.

PAS is the biggest party in the 222-seat Parliament with 43 seats, followed by the DAP with 40 parliamentarians.

Only One of Eight DAP MPs Polled Says Direct ‘Yes’ to Tobacco and Vape Bill

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii speaks to CodeBlue in an interview in Parliament on February 28, 2023. Picture by Saw Siow Feng for CodeBlue.

Except for Dr Yii who openly expressed support for the tobacco and vape control bill, all of his other seven party colleagues polled by CodeBlue reserved their stance, with most saying they would wait to read the bill when it is tabled in the Dewan Rakyat in the upcoming 11-day meeting scheduled from May 22.

DAP’s Bangi MP Syahredzan Johan, a lawyer, explained that he was reserving his stance pending tabling of the bill because he believes that “certain amendments will be made from the last time it was tabled. It is only fair to read it first.”

Ipoh Timor MP Howard Lee from the DAP, a former Perak state executive councillor, said: “I never commit to anything until I read the content.”

Beruas MP Ngeh Koo Ham, a former senior Perak state executive councillor, reserved his judgement on the bill pending its tabling, telling CodeBlue: “All other answers are meaningless and I wonder how can such a survey be conducted at this juncture?”. The health minister previously briefed MPs on the bill.

Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, a veteran DAP lawmaker and former minister, said government backbenchers are supposed to support “all” government bills.

“Do you expect me to vote against the bill? All government MPs will certainly support whatever [is] presented in the bill when it is tabled. We government MPs will voice our disagreement through internal channels, and not through voting against the bill in the Dewan Rakyat,” Kok told CodeBlue.

Last year, when PH was in the Opposition, both Ngeh and Kok had openly criticised the 2022 tobacco bill, mainly due to the GEG, even before the bill was tabled in Parliament.

“It’s going to be very difficult to enforce,” Kok had said then, while Ngeh, a lawyer, had cited a potential slippery slope towards other bans, like alcohol, among other concerns.

Kota Belud MP: My Constituents Don’t Support Tobacco and Vape Bill

Kota Belud MP Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis. Picture from Facebook @munirahmajilis.

Kota Belud MP Isnaraissah Munirah Majilis, who is also Warisan Wirawati chief and a former deputy minister, disputed the belief that government MPs are obligated to vote in support of all government bills in Parliament.

“That’s why we are MPs – we have our freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and we have our own opinions that we can put forth,” Munirah told a talk last Saturday on youth representation in Parliament during Parliament’s Open Day event, in response to CodeBlue’s questions about how she, as a government backbencher, would decide on the tobacco and vape bill.

“In my constituency, I can say that they don’t support this bill, honestly speaking. But I don’t want to say that this is my final decision,” added the Sabahan MP, who later told CodeBlue that she would reserve her stand pending tabling of the bill.

Munirah told the talk in Parliament that in her personal opinion – which she said was not necessarily the stance of her party, Warisan – the GEG that seeks to ban tobacco and vape products for those born from a certain year is “unfair”. Those born from 2007 are aged 16 or younger today.

“What about veteran smokers who are still smoking heavily? To me, this is not fair. You want to prohibit young people, but what about these veterans? How are you going to stop them? That is one,” Munirah said.

“There are also plenty of other dangerous things. Sugar, for example, is more harmful. Do you want to ban sugar next? That will be controversial too. To me, we need to make further perusal before we agree or before we table the bill.”

Munirah said she previously stated her opinions during Dr Zaliha’s briefing for MPs on the tobacco and vape bill.

“Just because I don’t smoke and I don’t like smokers sitting next to me, especially when I’m having the flu, doesn’t mean that we should ban it.

“As MPs, I feel that we also need to change our perspective – that just because we are government MPs, we must support everything that’s put forth. We have our own stand, and I feel that the trend among young people is that we don’t have to follow all this traditional culture in politics.”

Dr Dzul: GEG Cannot Be Punitive Or Perceived As Criminalising Offenders

Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad. Photo posted on Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad’s Facebook page on January 30, 2023.

Former Health Minister and Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is also Amanah strategy director, gave conditional support for the tobacco and vape control bill.

“Will support the bill especially after our concerns have been taken into consideration — especially on GEG as not to be punitive and be perceived as criminalising offenders,” Dzulkefly, who chose the survey option of waiting for the bill to be tabled, told CodeBlue.

“They need to be won over and believe that the GEG is meant to safeguard their health and future. Not to merely punish and deny them of their right to ‘injure and destroy their well-being’.”

Of the seven PKR MPs polled, two reserved their stance pending tabling of the bill in Parliament: Bayan Baru MP Sim Tze Tzin and Selayang MP William Leong.

“I won’t support it if it criminalises an entire generation. If it is to be made an offence to smoke, then it should apply to all Malaysians of all ages,” Leong told CodeBlue.

On the other hand, Sim, a former deputy minister, departed from his stance last year when he had openly shown support for the 2022 version even before the bill was tabled in Parliament, saying now that he would wait for the 2023 bill to be tabled.

“For a big decision like this, it is important to look into the details of the bill first,” Sim told CodeBlue.

Serian MP Richard Riot, a former minister and the sole GPS lawmaker polled by CodeBlue, said the Sarawakian coalition’s decision on the tobacco and vape control bill would be a “collective” one, without elaborating further.

Bintulu MP Tiong King Sing from GPS, who is currently the tourism, arts and culture minister, told Parliament in March last year that he was opposed to the GEG, describing it as a “threat” (ugutan) to Malaysians.

Vape Unclear Issue for Some MPs after Liquid Nicotine Declassification

Indera Mahkota MP Saifuddin Abdullah. Photo posted on Saifuddin Abdullah’s Facebook page on November 28, 2022.

Vape appeared to be a confusing issue for at least three MPs, especially after the unity government declassified liquid nicotine last March 31 to put into effect a tax on e-liquids with nicotine, despite the complete absence of regulations on e-cigarettes and vape with nicotine.

Titiwangsa MP Johari Abdul Ghani, a senior Umno lawmaker and former second finance minister, remained undecided on the tobacco and vape bill pending its tabling. “I want to understand more the rationale of segregating cigarettes and vape. Both have an impact on public health.”

Indera Mahkota MP Saifuddin Abdullah from Bersatu cited the health minister’s decision to delist liquid and gel nicotine — overriding the Poisons Board — as the reason for his desire to examine provisions of the tobacco and vape bill before coming to a decision.

“Generally, I support the bill. But with the recent decision on vape, which is against the advice of the professionals, I would want to see the details first,” the former minister told CodeBlue.

Bersatu’s Tanjong Karang MP Dr Zulkafperi Hanapi, who previously raised multiple health-related issues during parliamentary debates, similarly reserved his stance on the tobacco and vape bill pending its tabling, saying: “I am not sure about the vape and nicotine relationship in the bill.”

Dungun MP Wan Hassan Mohd Ramli from PAS, who was previously a member of the health, science and innovation PSSC from the 14th Parliament that had been involved in numerous stakeholder engagements on the 2022 tobacco bill, now reserves his judgement on the 2023 bill pending its tabling.

“It’s an important bill. GEG is the ultimate focus. It has to be thoroughly looked into and debated,” Wan Hassan told CodeBlue.

CodeBlue’s survey of 31 MPs was conducted via text message from May 2 to 5, with MPs given four options to choose from with regards to their stand on the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill: (a) Will support, (b) Won’t support, (c) Will abstain/ skip the vote, or (d) Will decide only after seeing the bill when it’s tabled for first reading. They were also asked to provide their brief reasons for their stance.

Both Seputeh MP Kok and Serian MP Riot did not choose any of the four options in the poll, but gave brief comments instead.

Bills are usually passed by a voice vote in the Dewan Rakyat. It is rare for MPs to call for a bloc vote — in which votes are counted in the House — on a bill that can only be triggered by at least 15 MPs standing in support.

Given the non-partisan nature of the tobacco and vape bill, a health-related piece of legislation, it is likely that if there are objections from a significant number of MPs against the bill – especially among government backbenchers through “internal channels” – the government will not table the bill at all.

However, the tobacco and vape bill is urgent; the urgency was created by the government’s own actions in declassifying liquid nicotine, legally permitting the sale of vape and e-cigarettes with nicotine to minors aged below 18. There are also no nicotine vape regulations on advertising, promotion and sponsorship; nicotine content caps; packaging and labelling; or the amount of e-liquid refills for retail.

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