KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 – After nearly two decades when tobacco was regulated under the Food Act 1983, Malaysia is finally set to have its first comprehensive standalone tobacco and vape control Act.
The Dewan Negara today approved the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 in a voice vote, following passage in the Dewan Rakyat last November 30.
Newly appointed Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad took the bill through the Senate that saw a milder debate among Senators yesterday. However, Senator Razali Idris from Bersatu was the only lawmaker in both Houses of Parliament to openly oppose the bill, due to the omission of the generational end game (GEG) provisions.
The Dewan Rakyat saw a much more furious debate last month, when both government and Opposition MPs castigated Dzulkefly’s predecessor, Dr Zaliha Mustafa, for Cabinet’s abrupt decision to decouple the GEG from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill.
The government’s decision to drop the GEG was made ostensibly due to Attorney-General Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh’s advice that the proposal to ban tobacco and vape products for anyone born from January 1, 2007, could be challenged in court because it breached Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality before the law.
The AG issued his sudden November 18 press statement on the supposed unconstitutionality of the GEG, even though three parliamentary special select committees (PSSCs) – which included engagement with officials from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) – concluding since 2022 that the generational smoking ban did not violate the Federal Constitution.
Then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin from Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s government had first proposed the GEG in the tobacco and vape control bill last year.
Previously, tobacco products were regulated under the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004 under the Food Act 1983. There were no existing regulations on e-cigarettes or vapes.
Dr Zaliha’s exemption order last March 31 removing liquid nicotine from the list of scheduled poisons under the Poisons Act 1952 – in a veto of unanimous objection from the Poisons Board – was the key factor that forced both Houses of Parliament to approve the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, despite unhappiness on both sides of the aisle about the removal of the GEG policy.
Several MPs, both government and Opposition, accused the government of yielding to pressure from the tobacco and vape industry.
Both Dr Zaliha and Dzulkefly, during debates in the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara respectively, sought to persuade MPs and Senators to pass the bill to close the lacuna in the law, as the delisting of liquid nicotine legalised the sale of nicotine vapes to anyone, including minors aged below 18.
While Dr Zaliha, a first-term MP, reacted emotionally to angry parliamentarians last November 30 by citing a hadith to tell parliamentarians not to bully women, Dzulkefly yesterday – just one day after his appointment in a Cabinet reshuffle – directly addressed legislators’ disappointment with the decoupling of the GEG, even before Senators began their debate.
During his wrapping-up of the debate earlier this morning, Dzulkefly told the Dewan Negara that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has a five-year plan to combat smoking among those born from 2007, who are aged 16 or younger today, that will continue at the university and workplace level.
The Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill replaced the GEG with a ban on the sale of tobacco and vape products to minors aged below 18, besides prohibiting this group from the purchase and use of such “smoking products”.
“Even though there’s no GEG in this bill, it doesn’t mean that MOH takes smoking lightly. We will increase advocacy activities. And at a more suitable time in future, we may revisit this issue,” Dzulkefly said.
E-cigarette and vape devices were also dropped from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, with the government shifting control of such products to the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Cost of Living (KPDN) and the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MITI) for safety standards and manufacturing respectively.
Dzulkefly, who previously served as health minister from 2018 to 2020, added that while the government estimates RM500 million in revenue from excise duty on e-cigarette and vape liquids with nicotine that was imposed since last April 1, the cost of treating E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) disease is estimated at RM150,000 per patient.
Cost of EVALI treatment is expected to rise to RM369 million annually by 2030, with Dzulkefly expecting higher costs from unreported cases.
Dzulkefly also said today that the bill requires the product registration of all tobacco and vape products, while vape vending machines and online sales of e-cigarettes would be regulated by regulations under the Act.
Packaging and labelling of e-cigarettes and vapes, which often come in attractive and stylish designs, will also be regulated.