‘What Happened?’ Tobacco Bill U-Turn Baffles Health Fraternity

Anti-tobacco, pharmacist, and doctor groups were left bewildered by the government’s abrupt flip-flop in delaying the tabling of the tobacco bill for second reading, asking if there was tobacco & vape industry interference in the government and Parliament.

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 – Several medical groups have expressed profound bewilderment following an unexpected government decision to delay the tabling of the tobacco bill, in stark contrast to Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s prior commitment to its second reading today.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang pointed out that Cabinet had approved the tabling of the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 in Parliament for second reading, as per Dr Zaliha’s announcement last Thursday.

“The question is, why the U-turn?” Amrahi said in a statement today.

“The reason given yesterday was very weak and raised many questions, not just for Members of Parliament, but also the general public. What really happened?”

In a statement by the Ministry of Health (MOH) published by the New Straits Times yesterday, the ministry claimed that the tabling of the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill was postponed to make way for “other government business”. The MOH’s statement was not posted on its or the health minister’s official social media accounts, nor was it given to all media outlets.

Public Health Malaysia shared an Instagram story originally posted by local artist Caprice (@capricedaddycap), which read, “PMX, please postpone the GEG [generational end game] bill tomorrow so we can hear from industry players. We want to help, but no one has contacted us yet.”

Public Health Malaysia added a red caption to the snapshot, saying, “Please stop being an army to a cursed industry”. The medical group went on to state, “While our fellow Muslims are defending their homeland, there are groups in our country fighting to defend vapes and cigarettes. What battle are you choosing?” Caprice is the founder of vape company, Nustix. 

Anti-tobacco advocates have pointed out that Caprice’s Instagram story falsely alleges that the vape industry was not consulted. Pharmacist Fahmi Hassan, citing the Health Parliamentary Select Committee’s (PSSC) report, confirmed they were engaged.

The Health PSSC report was tabled in Parliament yesterday. The select committee, which had worked on the tobacco bill with an expert panel, recommended delayed enforcement of the GEG ban on tobacco and vape products for anyone born from January 1, 2007.

The PSSC, which is chaired by Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad, also proposed lowering the RM500 maximum fine for offenders in the GEG group caught smoking or vaping to RM250, besides raising penalties on companies for offences related to registration, advertising, promotion or sponsorship, sale, giving gifts, retail pricing, packaging and labelling, responsibilities as manufacturers, importers, or distributors, and acute and critical situations.

Medical group Medical Mythbusters Malaysia posted on Facebook, sharing pictures of a tobacco company representative in Parliament today. They stated, “The Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 will not be presented in this parliamentary session, despite being included in the agenda following the statement from the Health Minister about the proposal. Why this sudden U-turn?

“Yesterday, we saw an Instagram post from a pro-vape celebrity urging PMX not to present this bill. This has led to speculation. Let’s further speculate with the latest pictures from Parliament today.”

IKRAM Health Malaysia president Dr Mohd Afiq Mohd Nor highlighted on X yesterday that a petition endorsing the passage of the tobacco and vape control bill in the current Parliament session has amassed over 9.2 million signatures within two weeks of its publication.

The petition not only urges Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and the health minister to ensure that the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill will be tabled in the current Parliament session, but for all MPs to fully support and pass this bill.  

“The bill is urgently required by Malaysia to ensure that control is in place for all smoking products, especially electronic cigarettes and vapes, as it is now unregulated and a threat to public health, especially our youth,” the petition read.

Meanwhile, founder and chairman of MedTweetMY Khairul Hafidz posted on X: “You can judge for yourselves. Since last year, we, as medical practitioners, have been advocating for this bill to be presented and approved in Parliament. 

“Even though it has gone through the Parliamentary Special Select Committee, been scrutinised by them, amendments have been made, and it has been included in the Parliament’s agenda, it has suddenly been postponed again.

“How long will it be postponed? Is this an attempt to cancel the bill altogether?

“Where are the voices of politicians and Parliament members who previously claimed there were issues with enforcement, etc? It has gone through a special committee, has been refined, where are your voices now? Have you gone silent? Was it all about creating issues back then? Was there no intention to have this bill presented at all? Just admit it, don’t pretend to be naive.

“If it comes to the point where we need to plead, I am willing to plead. Please pass this bill. It is a crucial bill for public health enforcement and the future of our children. Please, help our children. Not the industry.”

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