Malaysia Missed Opportunity For Smoke-Free Generations, Says Regional Anti-Tobacco Group

After the GEG was scrapped, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) says Malaysia missed the opportunity for a tobacco-free generation. Its 2023 report found “strong” tobacco industry interference in Malaysia, ranked 17 of 19 Asian countries.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 – Malaysia missed a golden opportunity to protect future generations from the tobacco epidemic by passing an anti-smoking bill decoupled from the generational end game (GEG), a regional anti-tobacco group said today.

The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) noted that the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, which was passed by the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, had been in the making for more than a decade.

“Now that a tobacco-free generation is no longer an immediate course of action, Malaysia must play catch-up with international best practices and its obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), including introducing standardised tobacco packaging, enforcing 100 per cent smoke-free environments in all indoor public and workplaces, prohibiting flavoured tobacco products, and enforcing its ban on tobacco sponsorships to include the fake corporate social responsibility activities of the tobacco industry,” said SEATCA’s Tan Yen Lian in a statement from Bangkok, Thailand.

“While the new law requires registration of retailers, there is a need to speed up its full and strict implementation. The registration of Malaysia’s 50,000 cigarette retailers, which began some time ago, is still incomplete, and regulators will have to race to similarly register vape traders. 

“They will also need to work closely with the non-health sector to curb online sales and promotion of tobacco.”

SEATCA highlighted its Asian Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2023 report that found “strong” tobacco industry interference in Malaysia that was ranked 17 out of 19 Asian countries.

Malaysia’s scores have deteriorated over the years in allowing the tobacco industry and its representatives in policy development.

“Senior government officials have been engaging in unnecessary interactions with the industry, contrary to its obligations under the WHO FCTC.”

The government’s move to drop the GEG policy from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill – ostensibly on the Attorney-General’s advice that the generational smoking ban is unconstitutional – sparked widespread public perception, including among many MPs, of interference by the tobacco and vape industry. 

The regional anti-tobacco group also said the new Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill put Malaysia “in a race against vape traders, who have already captured a large youth market since the delisting of nicotine as a poison in April 2023”.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey: Adolescent Health Survey 2022, more teens aged 13 to 17 years old are vaping than smoking in Malaysia: 14.9 per cent vaping prevalence (boys: 23.5 per cent, girls: 6.2 per cent), compared to 6.2 per cent smoking prevalence (boys:10.8 per cent, girls:1.7 per cent).

The new Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill not only omitted the generational smoking ban proposal, but also excluded e-cigarette and vape devices, or “smoking devices”.

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