Tiong Second Minister To Denounce Tobacco GEG As ‘Unconstitutional’, ‘Unenforceable’

Tourism Minister Tiong King Sing, in attacking Khairy Jamaluddin, slams the tobacco bill with the GEG and questions the link between smoking and cancer, which was proven back in the 1940s and 50s. Cigarette smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer cases.

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 16 – The Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 looks to be in serious trouble, with a second minister openly criticising the government bill.

Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing said in a statement today, in criticising former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, that the tobacco and vape generational end game (GEG) ban in the bill was “unconstitutional and unenforceable”. 

These descriptions of the government’s proposal to prohibit tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007 being “unconstitutional and enforceable” were the exact same terms used by Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh yesterday.

“Especially in the 21st century and in a civilised society, this high-pressure implementation and coercive action is akin to parents who cane or punish their child without prior checks or examination,” Tiong said in a statement on a video of his remarks on Facebook.  

“His (Khairy’s) response reflects his inability to accept the decision that this bill is unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

On Instagram Stories yesterday, Yeoh told Khairy that “a law that’s unenforceable and unconstitutional will cost the government millions”. The Segambut MP from Pakatan Harapan added that just because she did not support the GEG did not mean that she supported smoking or vaping.

Both Tiong and Yeoh were responding to Khairy who – in a series of Instagram Stories – accused the two ministers, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Azalina Othman Said, as well as “the gaffer” in Cabinet of opposing the tobacco and vape GEG.

Khairy made his remarks after CodeBlue reported last November 6 that Cabinet has decided to decouple the GEG from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, due to Attorney-General Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh’s advice that the generational tobacco and vape ban is unconstitutional. As such, tabling of the bill will likely be deferred to next year.

The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) reportedly believes that the prohibition violates Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality before the law. 

The Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 is a government bill under Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s administration. 

This bill, which was tabled for first reading last June in the 15th Parliament, is completely separate from the 2022 bill tabled by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government last year in the 14th Parliament, during which Khairy was health minister, even though the 2023 bill retains the GEG proposal.

Unlike Azalina – who merely told news portal Malaysiakini yesterday that the AGC presented their legal views on the GEG to Cabinet and that Cabinet was collectively responsible for the decision made – both Tiong and Yeoh appeared to break convention by speaking publicly about the tobacco bill that is not under their portfolios, as it is under the Ministry of Health (MOH).

It is also very uncommon for even government backbenchers in Parliament, much less Cabinet members, to openly criticise a government bill.

To date, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa has not communicated publicly about whether Cabinet has decided to drop GEG provisions from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill and whether she agreed with Cabinet’s collective decision on the matter. 

An anonymous source simply told CodeBlue yesterday that the MOH was working on presenting a “revised bill” to Cabinet so that it can be tabled and passed in the current Dewan Rakyat meeting that is scheduled to end on November 30. 

The source cited the urgent need to close the lacuna in the law that permits the legal sale of nicotine vape to children following the declassification of liquid nicotine from the Poisons Act 1952 last March 31.

However, it is unclear if even a revised version of the bill decoupled from the GEG will be able to pass Cabinet or Parliament, given that even ministers like Tiong describe the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill as the “GEG bill”.

Like Yeoh, Tiong similarly said he does not support smoking, calling for health education instead.

“Why do we have to rush, instead of taking a more harmonious and friendlier approach, starting from the aspects of education and awareness? Awareness can be raised at the preschool level by educating children about the dangers of smoking, indirectly making them aware to avoid smoking by the time they reach adulthood.”

Tiong also questioned the link between smoking and cancer, something which has been proven from over seven to eight decades of research. 

“The fact is that many cancer patients do not have a history of smoking and in fact have rarely inhaled cigarette smoke in their daily lives. So how can we explain the association between their experiences and cancer?” said the Bintulu MP from Gabungan Parti Sarawak.

“KJ, you are the top failing Health Minister. You failed to consistently prove that cancer is caused by the smoking habit, and even failed to set up a research centre or institute to further analyse and study detailed data on cancer patients in our country.

“Therefore, the bill that you proposed does not have a solid foundation that can be defended, and what is more important, you shouldn’t blame other ministers just to take out your frustrations.”

A paper published in BMJ’s Tobacco Control journal in 2012 noted that cigarettes were recognised as the cause of a global lung cancer epidemic in the 1940s and 1950s, with a confluence of studies from epidemiology, animal experiments, cellular pathology and chemical analytics. 

Another paper published in The Lancet’s Oncology journal in 2010 said two landmark epidemiologic studies published in 1950 were often credited with the discovery that smoking causes lung cancer. But the author noted that the historical origins of the discovery are actually more complex, as several case reports and case series published since the 1930s had noted that most patients with lung cancer smoked heavily.

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, responsible for nearly 90 per cent of lung cancer cases.

Malaysia’s own MOH has been consistently putting out health education materials for at least more than a decade, urging smokers to quit as smoking is the main cause of lung cancer.

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