One Year After Malaysians Were ‘Fooled’ With The Delisting Of Liquid Nicotine — Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

One year after then-Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa delisted liquid nicotine, Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak says the tragic situation has yet to be curbed, with red herrings instead like the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Act omitting GEG.

Today is April Fool’s Day, taken advantage of by many to carry out pranks on others. In other words, making a fool of someone. Fair enough, it’s somewhat fun!

Last year, however, April Fool’s Day took a different twist. The “prank” is no longer fun nor funny. It became deadly thanks to a last-minute decision to delist nicotine in the liquid and gel form for use in electronic cigarettes (vapes).

That it was executed at a ministerial level against the advice of the Poisons Board stance, made members of the Board no less like fools – each being a full-blooded professional totally committed to protecting the public health of the rakyat.

What is more, being supported by the majority of their medical and health fraternities countrywide.

They cannot be wrong in their professional assessment given that the World Health Organization (WHO) took interest in the issue and offered advice that nicotine in vapes can lead to another source of addiction among the younger generation.

Clearly April 1, 2023 was a notably tragic day for all intents and purposes. Especially for those under the age of 18 years who are now “a new breed” of (ab)users of the addictive substance that was beyond their reach until the 2023 April Fool’s Day.

Evidence of such incidents abound as early as the first few days of the delisting mal-decision. And there is no sign that this will stop anytime soon.

A total of 365 days have passed since. Many promises made to curb the tragic situation were left unattended. Each one turning sour! Only to be followed by another, like a red herring!

So much so, three professional bodies filed a suit against the minister involved, something that has never been done in manipulating the Poisons List drawn up decades ago.

Fast forward, it was not until eight months later, in November 2023, that a related bill – the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill – was presented in Parliament.

Hopes were raised that the availability of nicotine for vaping could be once again placed under tight control, given the chaotic madness induced by the previous decision to delist nicotine unilaterally.

Unfortunately, it was the converse (as anticipated by some). The Bill was presented, but did not include some previously planned Generational End Game (GEG) policies, such as the ban on smoking for those born after 2007 and regulations for e-cigarette or vape devices – meaning the chaos continues to ensue for at least a year today.

The “bigger surprise”, however, burst open during the recent Parliamentary session, namely, when the Deputy Health Minister reportedly spoke of an engagement between the tobacco and vape industry with Members of Parliament well ahead in August!

“On pressure from the industry, we need the support of all quarters.

“If we look at our experience when we tabled the GEG, there was a clash of views due to the [tobacco and vape] industry pressure, with representatives from the industry entering parliament and they met MPs [to lobby them], which influenced the decision [to drop the GEG],” the deputy health minister was quoted as saying.

To this, a former health minister, as the architect of the GEG, commended the honesty in admitting that Big Tobacco had influenced lawmakers, which is not new, not only for Malaysia but the world over.

Made worse because Malaysia, being a signatory to the WHO’s Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC), is meant to prohibit Big Tobacco from influencing policy decisions.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad has told Parliament that he aims to produce regulations under the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Act 2024 (Act 852) by June. Although the Ministry of Health has reportedly proposed a slew of regulations like plain packaging and retail display bans for both conventional cigarettes and vapes, as well as a ban on vape liquid bottles, flavour controls or bans, and a standardised shape for vape products, it remains to be seen if Big Tobacco or Vape may end up killing these proposals.

Meanwhile, the influential Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) expressed shock and disappointment over the delay thus far that has allowed vape-vested interest groups to continue exploiting the health vulnerabilities of our youth.

For example, the number of schoolchildren who are vaping – from both primary and secondary schools – is rising rapidly. The latest survey on e-cigarette use conducted by CAP found that in some schools, the number of vapers has increased three times, from 50 to 150.

With respect to the GEG fiasco, CAP is insisting on the setting up of a Royal Commission of Inquiry, given the recent revelation that tobacco and vape industry players had lobbied MPs to exclude the GEG component of the tobacco control bill in Parliament.

“Malaysia ratified the WHO FCTC in 2005, close to two decades ago, yet this can happen in the very sanctum where laws are passed, which is an absolute shame and a subversion of the legislative process,” according to CAP.

In summary, we have successfully turned the dire situation into the proverbial “(poli)tikus membaiki labu” by slowly losing grip on what was once a non-issue.

It is therefore time to urgently restore the situation to what it used to be – by relisting the nicotine back into the Poisons List. In other words, stop wasting the lives of innocents immediately.

Enough of the insensitive inhuman policy that literally causes harm and injuries intentionally to the rakyat! They deserve better. Bertaubatlah dalam bulan Ramadan mubarak ini.

Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is a neuropharmacologist and recipient of Malaysia’s Tobacco Control Icon Award 2023.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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