KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 – Instead of being hailed as a victory against Big Tobacco, yesterday’s passage of Malaysia’s first anti-smoking bill was denounced by public health experts and anti-tobacco advocates.
Prof Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman – a public health professor at International Medical University (IMU) – noted that British American Tobacco (BAT) Malaysia’s shares jumped by more than 4 per cent last Tuesday, following the tabling of the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 that omitted provisions related to the generational end game (GEG) ban.
“Tobacco and vape businesses must have been smiling and celebrating the victory of their lobbying efforts,” Dr Lokman wrote on his Facebook page yesterday.
The former Health deputy director-general (public health) described the passage of the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, decoupled from the GEG, as a “black mark in the history of public health policy development in Malaysia”.
“It is very unfortunate for the Malaysian people when public health policies are influenced by business over scientific evidence for health.”
Dr Lokman expressed his disappointment as someone who was once directly involved in the development of the tobacco control bill back in 2016.
The fellow at the Academy of Sciences Malaysia also rebutted attempts by certain parties to link the GEG proposal, which sought to ban tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007, to former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
“The GEG was an idea by the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) and Malaysia [under the Ministry of Health (MOH)] was the first country to endorse this concept and to subsequently turn it into a public health policy decision, in the form of a bill,” said Dr Lokman.
He added that as a politician, Khairy listened to technical experts and officials.
“It was clear that he understood scientific evidence and supported the GEG. And it was clear that he had the political will to make a huge policy decision to bring the first GEG bill to Parliament. To me, his mistake was that it was his ‘political will’ legacy that is feared by certain parties, not his legacy of suggesting the GEG,” Dr Lokman said.
The former top MOH official said making major public health policies required leaders with the political will to make huge decisions.
“In the context of our country, many policy decisions also take into account political interest. Yet, it is strange that for this GEG bill, the leadership ignored the views of the majority, i.e. voters, who want the GEG.”
Public Health Malaysia, a health advocacy platform with 1.1 million followers on Facebook, shared Dr Lokman’s post today, adding: “Black mark in the history of public health in Malaysia”.
“After years of fighting and getting support from all Malaysians, the GEG policy has fallen, perhaps because of strong lobbying from the extremely influential tobacco and vape industry,” Public Health Malaysia said in an earlier post yesterday.
Ikram Health Malaysia, a non-profit comprising health care professionals, said in a statement yesterday morning that it was never informed about the government’s decision to decouple the generational smoking ban from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill. Neither were dozens of health non-governmental organisations in the country consulted about it.
“Without the GEG, generations of young people will continue to be recruited by the industry to become nicotine addicts, whether through conventional or electronic cigarettes,” said Ikram Health Malaysia.
“In fact, our country’s mission to reduce the smoking and vaping prevalence to less than 5 per cent by 2040 will be buried.”
After the Dewan Rakyat approved the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill in a voice vote, MedTweetMY leader Dr Khairul Hafidz Al Khair asked Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa to explain her claim that the GEG could be restored in future if enforcement of the new Act cannot reduce smoking prevalence.
“My question is, if the GEG can’t be implemented now because it’s ‘unconstitutional’, then how can it be ‘constitutional’ in future?” Dr Khairul Hafidz, head of the online medical practitioners’ group, posted on X yesterday.
The government decoupled the GEG from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill presented to Parliament – ostensibly on Attorney-General Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh’s advice last month that the generational smoking prohibition could be challenged in court because it contravened Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality before the law.
The bill approved by the Lower House also omitted clauses related to e-cigarette or vape devices, or the “smoking device” term.
“The GEG has been dropped. What else is there to say?” Medical Mythbusters Malaysia, a group of medical practitioners, posted on Facebook yesterday.