KUALA LUMPUR, August 23 – Tasek Gelugor MP Wan Saiful Wan Jan is the first lawmaker to openly oppose the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 after its tabling.
The Opposition MP from Perikatan Nasional (PN) said he disagreed with the bill’s proposed generational ban on tobacco and vape, also known as the generational end game (GEG), that seeks to prohibit such nicotine products to anyone born from 2007.
“To me, this move illustrates the government’s desire to control lifestyles and people’s freedom of choice. This will lead to a slippery slope towards other legislations that curb civil liberties,” Wan Saiful said at a roundtable discussion here yesterday on the tobacco bill that was organised by the Malaysian branch of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC).
“We see now how the government uses legislation to curb freedom of speech. Do we want the government to expand its powers to curb other freedoms too?
“We also need to realise that this law has been introduced at a time when the people are not asking for it. The people want controls on the price of goods and restraints on the rising cost of living, not controls and curbs on freedom of choice.
“Only a few interest groups are vocally demanding for it,” added the Bersatu supreme council member.
Wan Saiful – a former founding CEO of libertarian think tank, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) – claimed that “100 per cent” of cigarettes in the country would be illicit cigarettes if the tobacco bill were to be passed.
According to Tobacco Tactics, a website produced by the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, CCC, which is based in Washington DC, is a United States lobby organisation that has lobbied against the regulation of tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
Newly elected Taman Medan state assemblyman Dr Afif Bahardin, who also attended the discussion organised by the CCC, posted photos of the event that showed former Rural Development Deputy Minister Sivarasa Rasiah from PKR in attendance.
“This programme was organised as an alternative platform to study and evaluate the bill comprehensively by taking into account aspects of health, law, economy, and practicality,” Dr Afif posted on Facebook, without specifying whether he supported or opposed the bill.
He said that besides Sivarasa, others who attended the roundtable discussion on the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill included Undi18 co-founder Tharma Pillai, as well as representatives from coffee shop and vape associations.
Before the tobacco bill was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat last June 12, Sungai Buloh MP R. Ramanan, a government backbencher, held a press conference to express his opposition to the tobacco GEG.
Although Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government claims to have two-thirds majority in Parliament, the government’s move to refer the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill to the Health parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) – without giving MPs a chance to debate it in full chambers – indicates that the bill does not have sufficient support among government MPs.
Based on discussions on a previous iteration of the bill last year, under then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s administration, it appears that MPs who are also lawyers are particularly opposed to the GEG.
Since the new tobacco bill was tabled by Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa last June, not a single MP – either government or Opposition – has publicly voiced support for it, except for Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii (who is also the health minister’s special advisor) and Kuala Langat MP Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi (the head of PN’s health committee). Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad, who is former health minister and head of the Health PSSC, is currently working on amendments to the bill.
Dzulkefly tweeted last Friday that expert groups from 11 universities, the National Poison Centre, and the National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) had completed their proposed amendments to the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, together with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).
The Kuala Selangor MP indicated that the PSSC’s proposed amendments to the bill would only prohibit the sale or supply of tobacco or vape products to the GEG group, without making it an offence for consumers from the affected generations – similar to the New Zealand model.
“All aiming to ‘decriminalise’ the Bill on GEG and strictly regulating and penalising the supply side,” Dzulkefly tweeted.