KUALA LUMPUR, June 12 – The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and the Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) told the government today to put liquid nicotine back under control of the Poisons Act 1952 while the tobacco bill remains in limbo.
MMA president Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai said the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) decision today to refer the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 to the Health parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) – after it was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat for first reading – means a further delay of passage of the bill.
“Therefore, as the e-cigarette and vape industry remains unregulated, MMA demands that the Health Ministry immediately reverse its decision of exempting nicotine from the Poisons Act,” Dr Muruga said in a statement today.
“We wish to highlight again that the removal of nicotine from the list of controlled substances under the Poisons Act allows any vape – both containing nicotine and non-nicotine – to be sold openly and legally to anyone including children of any age.
“It would be irresponsible of the government to disregard this issue and its serious impact on public health, in particular the health of our younger generation.”
Dr Muruga questioned if a review by the Health PSSC on the tobacco bill could be done quickly enough to allow the bill to proceed through all stages for passage in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting that is scheduled to end this Thursday.
“In the best interest of public health, the bill should proceed for debate and be voted on in the current session. Failure to do so will be seen as the government’s lack of urgency and commitment to passing the bill.”
MMA pointed out that Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa previously hailed the bill as a “success” and confirmed its tabling for first reading today.
During a media briefing last June 6, Dr Zaliha said that the ministry had incorporated all 23 proposed amendments – based on recommendations by a PSSC from the 14th Parliament for the 2022 iteration of the tobacco bill – and added five new suggestions to the 2023 bill, making it more comprehensive as it covers not only conventional smoking products but also new ones, including electronic and combustible ones.
“Did the Health Ministry just decide this morning to refer the Bill once again to the PSSC for Health for further ‘fine tuning’?” Dr Muruga questioned.
MPS president Prof Amrahi Buang said there could be a significant regulatory gap on nicotine vape, which might last for up to six months until the next parliamentary meeting scheduled for October, if the bill is not reintroduced in the full chambers of the Dewan Rakyat before this Thursday when the current meeting is scheduled to end.
“We have to remind the government that it (the delisting of liquid nicotine) has happened and they have to take the necessary steps to address the legal gap on nicotine vape given the pending status of the Bill. If nothing happens these next few days, then the current vacuum or lacuna in law will be prolonged at least until October.
“That is another four months. You add the two months from March 31 (when liquid nicotine was delisted) and that makes it six months, half a year, where we are in this situation where there is no law for nicotine vape,” Amrahi told CodeBlue when contacted today.
Dr Zaliha, when referring the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill to the Health PSSC, said that following the government’s engagement session with the Health PSSC last June 6, along with input from MPs, professional bodies, and civil societies, there was a call for “certain matters” to be further examined and refined.
Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad, who chairs the Health PSSC, did not previously issue any statement on the select committee’s opinions about the tobacco bill. Not one MP has also gone on record with their thoughts on the bill, except for Sungai Buloh MP R. Ramanan who held a press conference last week to criticise the bill.
Amrahi suggested that the upcoming six state elections, which must be held by August, could be a contributing factor for the government and MPs being cautious about proceeding with the tobacco bill that moots a ban on tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007, also known as the generational end game (GEG).
“This is expected. This is not something unexpected because of the incoming elections,” Amrahi said.
“We don’t know what will happen but as I said, the government has to take responsibility. I think all the professional bodies related to health and also the advocates, our stand is very clear. The government of the day has to protect its population – it’s an ethical issue. You’re supposed to protect the rakyat.”