THE Health Ministry has long fought against the prevalent and persistent smoking predicament. Previously, the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 was introduced by the Ministry to tighten smoking regulations and end smoking habits among future generations.
The Bill has gone through the first and second readings at the Dewan Rakyat and has been further brought to the Special Select Committee for Consideration of Bills. However, the Bill could not be tabled due to the dissolution of Parliament for the 15th General Election.
Moving forward to 2023, the Health Ministry is still committed to bringing the Bill to be passed. The Bill, now renamed Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023, outlines a thorough strategy to address the ubiquitous problem of smoking.
The newly renamed Bill has gone through the first reading at the Dewan Rakyat on June 12, 2023, in a ground-breaking step intended to revolutionise public health in Malaysia. Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa has recommended the Bill be passed on to the Parliamentary Special Select Committees on Health to examine the Smoking Product Control for Public Health Bill 2023 for additional review as per Rule 54(1) of the Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat.
The Bill, apart from addressing the significant health risks posed by smoking, is also paving the way for a smoke-free future through the Generation End Game (GEG).
It is being championed by a coalition of health professionals and organisations, policymakers, advocacy groups and concerned citizens due to mounting evidence of the detrimental effects of smoking on public health.
Smoking continues to be a primary cause of preventable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory problems.
One of the studies done by the World Health Organization in 2021 shows that the usage of tobacco products causes an estimated eight million death per year around the globe. Meanwhile, In Malaysia, almost 27,000 people die on a yearly basis caused of smoking tobacco products, based on research done by Tobacco Atlas in 2019.
All this death could have been prevented through a strict provision based on WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) guidelines, and Malaysia has been a member of the WHO FCTC Treaty since 2005.
According to the Health Ministry data, the percentage of adults and teenagers (aged 13 to 17) who use electronic cigarettes or vapes has significantly increased. Furthermore, the data demonstrate that over a nine-year period, there has been a slow decline in the percentage of Malaysians aged 15 and older who smoke.
Clearly, this figure-based evidence has shown that smoking continues to be a major burden to Malaysia. From the aspect of productivity, the use and dependency on tobacco products will cause an increase in the risks of chronic diseases (morbidity) and an increase in the death rate (mortality), which will eventually cause a decrease in quality of life.
The decline in quality of life will have an impact on productivity due to a lack of concentration when working and having to take time off. Based on the study of the Impact of Tobacco Use on Health and Work Productivity, Malaysia is estimated to bear losses of RM275.3bil due to a lack of productivity.
The impact of smoking doesn’t stop at productivity, health care costs due to smoking must also be bear by the government. Based on the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) report, smoking is a major contributing factor to chronic diseases such as lung cancer, heart attack and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which causes a significant financial burden on public healthcare systems.
The Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023, heralded as a major piece of legislation, aims to enact several strict regulations to advance public health and protect the population from the negative impact of smoking.
Several significant provisions were included within the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023 if it were to become law. The most prominent provision within the Bill is the Generation End Game (GEG), which banned individuals born on Jan 1, 2007, and onwards from smoking.
GEG encompasses four important elements: to lessen the smoking prevalence to 5%, to end the commercial sale of tobacco products, to denormalise smoking culture among society and to end the exposure of smoking products and usage towards children.
The Bill further acts as a control measure for registration, advertising, packaging, sale and use of both conventional cigarettes and cigarettes with a heating device. In essence, this Bill can be seen as a major effort from the Health Ministry to reduce the appeal of smoking products towards children and prevent a new generation from developing nicotine dependence.
On top of that, the Bill intends to tighten prohibitions on cigarette sponsorship and advertising to lessen the industry’s influence over vulnerable groups, particularly children and teenagers.
Despite receiving great praise for its all-encompassing approach to tobacco control, the Bill also drew criticism on personal freedoms and choices and possible increment in the illegal cigarette trade.
On the other hand, supporters of the Bill emphasise the urgent need for decisive action, pointing out the terrible toll smoking has on public health and the significant financial burden it creates on healthcare systems.
Regardless of all the arguments and views, the public’s health and the well-being of the majority must be prioritised. All hands must be on deck for this Bill to become a reality. This includes Members of Parliament, health professionals, policymakers, and concerned citizens.
However, above all, Parliamentarians are the ones who need convincing for this Bill to be passed. Therefore, it is crucial for the Members of Parliament to move towards evidence-based decision-making.
MPs who are supportive of or against the Bill will engage in heated discussions as it advances through the parliamentary process. Ultimately, passing this legislation has the power to revolutionise public health, preserving future generations’ wellbeing and saving lives.
Mas Liza Maslan is a Parliamentary Research Officer at the Research & Library Division of Parliament of Malaysia. The views expressed here are solely the writer’s own.