Tobacco Bill Likely Headed For Parliamentary Select Committee After Tabling

Cabinet has decided to have the tobacco bill sent to a parliamentary special select committee after its expected tabling next month. It’s unclear if a vote on the bill will take place in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting that is scheduled for 7 more days.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 – Voting and passage of the tobacco bill will likely be delayed, as Cabinet has decided to have the bill referred to a parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) after it is tabled in the Dewan Rakyat.

CodeBlue previously reported that a Cabinet meeting last Friday approved the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023 – retaining the controversial generational end game (GEG) provision – for tabling for first reading in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting.

A source then confirmed with CodeBlue yesterday that the Cabinet meeting had also decided for the government to send the tobacco and vape control bill to a PSSC after tabling, but expressed uncertainty when asked if this meant that a vote on the bill in the Dewan Rakyat would be postponed to the following parliamentary meeting in October.

“I am not sure about the voting. Depends on how much time the select committee needs,” said the source on condition of anonymity.

The current Dewan Rakyat meeting is scheduled for another seven days after it resumes next Tuesday, with the tobacco bill likely to be tabled between June 7 and 8. The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) recently announced that its 2020 annual report would be debated in Parliament on June 6.

It is unclear why Cabinet preemptively decided to have the tobacco bill referred to a PSSC after its tabling, when MPs haven’t even seen the government bill yet. The Malaysian Green Lung Association recently told the government not to use the upcoming state elections to delay the presentation and passage of the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill.

As no other bills have been slated for readings in the June parliamentary sittings, all MPs – rather than a select group of legislators in a PSSC – have six full days (excluding June 6 for the Suhakam report) to debate the tobacco bill and suggest amendments at the committee stage.

The House can even choose to sit through the nights to peruse the bill before going to a vote in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting itself, or extend the meeting by a few days if necessary.

The Health PSSC is chaired by former Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad. However, Parliament may also form a new PSSC specially to peruse the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill, instead of referring it to the Health PSSC. 

Under Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government in the 14th Parliament, after debate in the House on the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022, the proposed law was sent to a new PSSC, chaired by then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, that was formed specially for the bill.

Multiple MPs from both sides of the divide then had criticised the GEG, which sought to ban tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007, and various provisions in the bill that legislators considered to be authoritarian.

The tobacco bill never made it to a vote in the parliamentary meeting last October before the dissolution of Parliament for the 15th general election.

Although the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill may incorporate amendments suggested by Khairy’s PSSC then – such as the removal of the offence of personal possession of tobacco or vape products by the GEG group and a decrease in the maximum fine for GEG offenders to RM500 from RM5,000 – the 2023 bill is, for all intents and purposes, a new bill. 

And the 15th Parliament is a new Parliament that is not bound by recommendations from a PSSC from the 14th Parliament.

However, the treatment for both the 2022 and 2023 versions of the tobacco bill – by different administrations in different Parliaments – indicates lawmakers’ deep dislike towards the bill. No other government bill in recent history has ever gone to a PSSC before a vote; all government bills are routinely passed by the Dewan Rakyat (except for extremely rare ones for which bloc votes are called), sometimes in as short as a day after tabling.

The crucial difference in the complex legislative pathway for the tobacco bill between 2022 and 2023 is that this year, the unity government removed liquid nicotine from the Poisons Act 1952, the only legal barrier against the sale of e-cigarettes and vape with nicotine.

Nicotine vape products have been legally accessible to anyone, including children and teenagers aged below 18, ever since the delisting of liquid nicotine last March 31. There are no regulations or restrictions whatsoever on the sale; advertising, promotion and sponsorship; or packaging and labelling of e-cigarettes and vape with nicotine.

Current tobacco regulations under the Food Act 1983 do not cover e-cigarettes or vape.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS): Adolescent Health Survey 2022, prevalence of current e-cigarette and vape use among teenagers in Malaysia aged 13 to 17 rose from 9.8 per cent in 2017 to 14.9 per cent in 2022, even as current cigarette smoking prevalence dropped among adolescents in the same period from 13.8 per cent to 6.2 per cent.

A recent CodeBlue investigation of 10 vape stores in the Klang Valley revealed that most retailers tried to push e-cigarettes to youth non-smokers, in contrast to the vape industry’s claim that their products are supposedly “harm reduction” tools for hardcore cigarette smokers.

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