Some MPs worry over unintended consequences of proposed tobacco Bill

PETALING JAYA: It seems a simple enough proposition – stop the younger generation from even starting the smoking and vaping habit, and in a couple of decades, Malaysia would be a near smoke-free country.

Yet, despite strong support from various bodies for the so-called “Generational End Game” law against smoking, several lawmakers said they are concerned that if the Bill is passed, there could be various repercussions from the well-meaning legislation.

They say the ban could see black market sales of cigarettes flourish if it is not implemented efficiently, while setting a precedent for the “moral policing” of other items such as alcohol.

Kepong MP Lim Lip Eng said he would throw his support behind the Bill if it could be implemented in a workable manner.

“I would like to reiterate that I am up in arms against the sale of cigarettes to children or those below 18, like what Malaysia is currently doing. However, I can only go all-in on the proposed Bill if it is carried out in a practical manner,” he said when contacted.

He cited the existing situation in Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the east coast states of the peninsula, where large numbers of people purchase smuggled cigarettes.

“Although the Bill has yet to be passed, we already see that the sale and consumption of illicit cigarettes are rampant there, so what more if there is a total ban?” he added.

He also said a similar policy was implemented in Bhutan in 2004 but had to be repealed due to its inability to tackle the issue.

“Despite the total ban, Bhutan continued to see the number of smokers aged 13 to 15 remaining high, with the smuggling of illicit products also becoming increasingly rampant.

“Hence, if we (Malaysia) implement the ban, it is possible to see the smuggling of illegal cigarettes getting robust, with many also choosing to buy them instead of authorised products.

“The real winners will then be the black market, with the government being on the losing end,” he said, adding that the ban would open the door to corruption due to the increase in smuggling activities.

Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah said there were several issues that should be resolved beforehand.

“First and foremost, I am opposed to smoking but am against imposing fines or even jail terms to discourage smoking.

“This approach similarly appears to be populist and a quick fix towards a problem whereby alternative solutions can be brought forward,” she said.

She added that although the ban was a step in the right direction, the elephant in the room was still the sale and consumption of illegal cigarettes.

“Currently, there are still many Malaysians who smoke and use illegal cigarettes and tobacco.

“In order for the smokers or potential smokers to accept the government’s mandate, enforcers must rethink the monitoring and implementation process,” she added.

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