KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 – Hannah Yeoh is the first Cabinet member to publicly acknowledge that the government finds the tobacco and vape generational end game (GEG) to be unconstitutional.
The youth and sports minister made the confirmation after former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin – who had proposed the generational ban in the first version of the tobacco bill brought to Parliament last year – accused her of rejecting the GEG.
In commenting on a CodeBlue report yesterday of the Malaysian Family Medicine Specialists’ Association’s statement that decoupling the GEG from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 and delaying the bill violates child rights, Khairy posted on Instagram Stories, without naming Yeoh, that a “terpaling child rights advocate” minister, who is currently in charge of young people, has been opposing the GEG from before till now.
“Fikirkan Sekejap,” Yeoh, who is also Segambut MP from the DAP, responded on Instagram Stories to Khairy’s post, making a dig at Khairy’s podcast, Keluar Sekejap.
“A law that’s unenforceable and unconstitutional will cost the government millions. Not supporting GEG does not mean I support smoking or vaping.”
Khairy also commented yesterday on an old July 30, 2022 tweet by Yeoh that stated, “our stand on GEG”, in reference to a statement by the parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) on women and children affairs and social development in the 14th Parliament, chaired by Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said then, on its concerns about enforcement of the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 potentially violating child rights.
The former health minister said “most, if not all” of the points in the PSSC’s statement had been incorporated in the amendments that came from the PSSC for the 2022 tobacco bill that he had chaired last year, the 2023 bill tabled by Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa last June for first reading, and the revisions proposed by the current Health PSSC chaired by former Health Minister and Kuala Selangor MP Dzulkefly Ahmad.
“So your stand is old news,” Khairy told Yeoh on Instagram Stories. “What we want to know is your stand as a minister in a Cabinet that has apparently rejected the GEG provision. That is the crux of the matter.”
In Westminster democracy, Cabinet makes decisions as a collective body. Hence, as a minister, Yeoh’s statement yesterday reflects the government’s view on the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, which may or may not coincide with her personal opinion.
Dr Zaliha herself did not issue a statement to confirm CodeBlue’s November 6 report that Cabinet has decided to decouple the GEG from the tobacco control bill – which is under the Ministry of Health (MOH) – due to Attorney-General Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh’s advice that the proposed prohibition on tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007 throughout their lifetime is unconstitutional.
CodeBlue reported that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) believes the GEG contravenes Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality before the law.
In multiple posts on Instagram Stories yesterday, Khairy named several other ministers, besides Yeoh, who allegedly oppose the GEG.
The former health minister claimed that the AGC reversed its stance on the GEG – from when the government’s legal advisors previously approved the 2022 bill – because of Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Azalina from Umno.
“A fierce critic of GEG is none other than the law minister herself. She doesn’t want it passed. Big opponents of GEG in Cabinet are law minister, tourism minister and the gaffer.”
It is unknown who Khairy was referring to as the “gaffer” minister. “Gaffer” means “boss” in British slang.
Tiong King Sing – who is the current tourism, arts and culture minister under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government and Bintulu MP from GPS – made his opposition to the GEG public during a debate in the 14th Parliament in March 2022 under Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s administration.
Khairy also accused a senior MP – previously a minister in Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s Cabinet in the first Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and “someone who still clearly controls his party despite being kicked upstairs” – of similarly rejecting the tobacco and vape GEG.
The former health minister claimed that this senior MP and former minister – without naming the individual or his party – was heard saying in Parliament, “Why should we support GEG? We will lose revenue from duties on cigarettes. And if we pass it, KJ will get the credit.”
CodeBlue understands that this lawmaker’s remarks were not made on the public record during Dewan Rakyat proceedings.
“What a petty, small man you are,” Khairy posted on Instagram Stories, referring to that senior MP and former minister.
“This is not about who gets credit,” he added, pointing out that although the government collects about RM5 billion from cigarette taxes annually, RM6 billion is spent a year to treat cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, and other smoking-related illnesses, an amount that is estimated to rise to RM8 billion in the next few years.
“No wonder no one wants you back as minister (federal or state). Not interested in saving lives. Thinking about politics 24/7. Mathematics pun fail.”
Khairy urged Dr Zaliha, tagging her Instagram account, to maintain the GEG in the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill. “This will be one of the most consequential laws for public health. @drzalihamustafa please do it. The credit will be yours, entirely. Let’s save some lives.”
An anonymous source told CodeBlue yesterday that the MOH has been working “overtime” to present a revised bill to Cabinet “as soon as possible” – without confirming if the revised bill would be a version decoupled from the GEG – so that the bill can be tabled and passed in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting that is scheduled to end on November 30.
The source cited an “urgent” need to close the lacuna in the law that allows the legal sale of nicotine vape to everyone, including children and minors, after Dr Zaliha exercised her ministerial authority in vetoing the Poisons Board to remove liquid nicotine from the Poisons List last March 31 to enable the taxation of e-liquids with nicotine.
“Groundwork has already been carried out and will await approval from Cabinet to be tabled at the end of this session,” the source told CodeBlue.