Why Are Ministers And MPs Silent On Liquid Nicotine Delisting? – Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak says the health minister’s disregarding of the Poisons Board in delisting liquid nicotine sets an unwarranted precedent. He also questions the silence of education, youth and sports, economy, environment, and science ministers.

The delisting of liquid nicotine is morally dehumanising and Islamically wrong!

The health minister is now facing a lawsuit brought against her by the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Council (MCTC), the Malaysian Green Lung Association (MGLA), and Voice of the Children (VOC) over the delisting of liquid and gel nicotine used in e-cigarettes and vaporisers as a scheduled poison from the Poisons Act, 1952. 

This is historic for Malaysia, even many parts of the world, starkly indicating the state of ill health of the health sector. 

It was brought about by the minister’s act to veto a unanimous rejection from the Poisons Board during its consultation session last March 29 for the proposed liquid nicotine delisting. The exemption order was issued last March 31. 

The minister has claimed that this resulted from the Ministry of Finance’s instruction to exempt the said items used in e-cigarettes and vaporisers from control under the Poisons Act.

In turn, it can be traced to the Prime Minister-cum-finance minister’s speech last February 24, while tabling the 2023 Budget in Parliament. 

Reportedly, the proposal was to impose excise duties on e-liquids containing nicotine, effective from last April 1, making for an infamous April’s Fool Day joke! 

This time, all Malaysians were made fools of by their newly elected ‘democratic’ unity government. 

Most ironically however, the health minister, in her response to the lawsuit, categorically said that “the applicants do not have the right to be heard”, in reference to the MCTC, MGLA and VOC in their June 30 affidavit against her for not giving them and other stakeholders, an “effective right to be heard” on the matter, before removing liquid nicotine from the Poisons List. 

Similarly, the Poisons Board’s unanimous decision against the delisting. The health minister rendered the Board ‘obsolete’ by arrogantly disregarding the Board members’ combined professional experience!

These created an unwarranted precedent, which only goes to demonstrate how ‘sick’ the health sector is, ‘democratically speaking’, to unilaterally remove liquid nicotine from the Poisons List by ignoring the collective expertise of the Poisons Board members.

It boggles the mind as to how a democratically elected government that is fiercely claiming to be reform-based could be so brazen and ‘uncivilised’ in supporting a minister (and/ or the executive) to bulldoze a very controversial decision through and deny the people’s rights and concerns about their own welfare! 

The idea of a ‘big brother’ dystopia (in this case, ‘sister’) seems to have emerged, when the Ministry of Health wields total power over the people’s wellbeing. 

This is even more so when it comes to issues motivated by greed, that is, collecting excise duties on a highly addictive and dangerous substance, namely nicotine. 

Clearly, the minister has abdicated her professional duty in violation of the sacred oath “to first do no harm”. 

Consequently, the action taken has been many thousands, if not millions, of those under the age of 18 being lured by the temptation of vaping. 

Similarly, the education minister has also failed to give voice to the plight of these children, despite the increasing use of the poisonous substance within schools. 

The youth and sports minister is equally silent, although the number of women addicted to nicotine continues to rise.

The economy minister, who was eager to point to the ‘addictive’ habit of Malaysians eating out, has failed to speak out about the real addictive habit of nicotine consumption.

Nicotine consumption often begins from a very young age, leading not only to higher wastage of resources, but also the premature ending of lives. 

How about the natural resources, environment and climate change minister? In terms of environmental pollution, smoking and vaping will only worsen the ongoing climate change crisis. 

The science, technology and innovation minister must be aware of the critical scientific evidence when it comes to nicotine abuse, but also remains quiet.

It is downright hypocritical by not walking the talk to protect the generation of tomorrow. Regardless of all the legal wrangling, the decision to delist nicotine is morally dehumanising!

It only opens the door to the uncontrolled abuse of nicotine that was rigorously put under lock and key to protect the nation’s wellbeing.

The medical fraternity recognises the clinical merits of such issues, as acknowledged and accepted by the World Health Organization (WHO) decades ago. The move is said to create a new generation of addicts, as warned by the WHO.

To state that the “decision on the said poisons was lawful, rational, and had no procedural errors” as claimed, is morally and ethically out of line, when millions of lives are intentionally placed at stake. 

Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is a neuropharmacologist and recipient of Malaysia’s Tobacco Control Icon Award 2023.

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