Health Minister Defends Tobacco, Vape Industry Lobbying As ‘Mature’ Democracy

Dr Dzul defends tobacco & vape industry lobbyists meeting MPs as “appropriate in any mature and civil democracy”, despite WHO FCTC. He maintains GEG was killed due to AGC stance, not industry influence, suggesting Lukanisman was misquoted or misunderstood.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — Dzulkefly Ahmad today defended tobacco and vape industry lobbying in tobacco control legislation, despite clear prohibitions against this under the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The health minister also suggested that his deputy, Lukanisman Awang Sauni, was misquoted or misunderstood, after the media that reported Lukanisman’s admission in the Dewan Rakyat last Thursday that tobacco and vape industry influence – with industry representatives meeting with MPs in Parliament – had caused the decoupling of the generational end game (GEG) from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023.

This bill excluding the generational prohibition on tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007 was subsequently passed by Parliament and gazetted into law as the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Act 2024 (Act 852).

During Question Time in the Dewan Rakyat today, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, citing Lukanisman’s remarks in Parliament last week, asked Dzulkefly to clarify which was true: whether the tobacco and vape GEG was killed because of industry lobbying or because of legal issues with the Attorney-General’s Chambers’ stand that the prohibition was unconstitutional.

“Looking at the Hansard and after getting an explanation from the deputy minister, I find that even though YB Kapar spoke about issues related to industry lobbying, the answer given by the MOH (Ministry of Health) deputy minister stated, among others, that industry lobbyists had indeed come for engagements with Members of Parliament,” Dzulkefly replied.

“That, to me, is appropriate in any mature and civil democracy. There is nothing wrong with it. Anyone with interests, bona fide stakeholders, has the right to meet anyone, whether Members of Parliament or elected representatives.”

Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, which Malaysia ratified in 2005, states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

However, Dzulkefly said the claim that the tobacco and vape industry had “influenced the government and Cabinet” was “factually wrong”, based on Lukanisman’s comments in Parliament.

According to the Hansard, in response to Kapar MP Dr Halimah Ali’s question on whether the government has policies or the political will to prevent tobacco and vape industry influence, Lukanisman said last March 14:

Kalau kita lihat pengalaman apabila kita membentangkan GEG berlakunya pertindihan pandangan apabila tekanan industri-industri memasuki Parlimen, industri berjumpa dengan Ahli-ahli Parlimen, ini mempengaruhi keputusan tersebut.”

[Translation: “If we look at our experience when we tabled the GEG, a conflict of views arose when pressure from the industry entered Parliament, the industry met with Members of Parliament, it influenced that decision” [emphasis added].

Dzulkefly’s predecessor, Dr Zaliha Mustafa, was the health minister when the Executive decoupled the GEG provisions from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill that was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat last November. The GEG was initially included in the version of the bill tabled earlier in June that was subsequently retracted.

Both government backbenchers and Opposition MPs had widely condemned the exclusion of the GEG from the tobacco control bill, attributing it to industry influence. But the bill was passed the following day after the fractious debate, amid lacuna in the law in which nicotine vape was legally accessible to children aged below 18 following Dr Zaliha’s move to exempt liquid nicotine used in vapes from control under the Poisons Act 1952 last March 31.

Dzulkefly maintained today that the reason the government decoupled the GEG from the tobacco and vape control bill was because of the AGC’s stance that the prohibition violated Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality before the law.

“It was only that; it had nothing to do with lobbyists and nothing to do with anything that is perceived out there. And this statement was made by the MOH deputy minister when he gave the reply.”

Dzulkefly is wrong. Lukanisman’s answer to Kapar MP Dr Halimah in the House last Thursday did not mention the AGC at all.

All the deputy minister said, subsequent to his comments on tobacco and vape industry representatives meeting with MPs that “influenced the decision” on the GEG, was his plea to MPs not to vape in the premises of Parliament.

“I do not wish to prolong this issue,” Dzulkefly said. “I hope that CodeBlue and my friend, former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, will correct this issue.”

The health minister also said that the government aims to enforce regulations under Act 852 by June.

After the media reported Lukanisman’s verbal reply in Parliament, the deputy health minister did not issue any statement to clarify or to retract his comments.

Citing Lukanisman’s bombshell, Khairy told The Star – which, like CodeBlue, reported the deputy health minister’s admission that the tobacco and vape industry had killed the GEG – that the government was “cowardly and irresponsible” for removing GEG provisions from the anti-smoking bill.

On the Keluar Sekejap podcast’s 90th episode released last Monday, Khairy claimed that when he was health minister in 2022 and attempted to table the tobacco control bill with the GEG – which failed to pass before the dissolution of Parliament for the 15th general election – MPs had met tobacco company representatives during Parliament.

“One of them had brought Philip Morris, if I’m not mistaken, to meet with Members of Parliament. That person is a minister today and they, without hesitation, had organised a briefing session for Members of Parliament from their party and invited the tobacco company to give the briefing,” Khairy said.

“To me, when we want to draft legislation related to public health, we don’t let in the enemy. I saw, from that event, that our Members of Parliament were already compromised.

“After the change of government, that person became minister and I knew that when that person became minister and had brought the tobacco company to meet with Members of Parliament from their party, the GEG would die.

“Big Tobacco has not just penetrated MPs, they have managed to penetrate the Cabinet itself.”

Anti-tobacco advocates have said that tobacco industry influence on the legislative process of Malaysia’s first ever tobacco control Act was a “clear violation” of the FCTC, with the Malaysian Pharmacists Society demanding a revisit of the GEG following Lukanisman’s admission.

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