Meet-up between senior Health Ministry officials and tobacco industry reps raises concerns, says MCTC

PETALING JAYA: A meeting between two senior officials, believed to be section heads with the Health Ministry in the Disease Control division, and representatives from the tobacco industry is worrying, says the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC).

MCTC, which is an anti-smoking NGO, is concerned that the meeting would hinder the government’s efforts to reduce tobacco consumption within the country.

The council also called for an immediate investigation into this issue by the top management of the Health Ministry and for transparency in the results of these investigations once completed.

MCTC said the two senior officials who are both section heads with the Health Ministry’s Disease Control division were seen meeting with tobacco product industry officials.

“Worse, after this was highlighted in certain social media channels, efforts were taken to alter or delete photos pertaining to this, a clear signal of attempting to hide these meetings,” it said in a statement on Tuesday (Jan 31).

Earlier, a social media post with pictures of these meetings was tagged as “meeting for future collaboration”.

MCTC, however, did not name the two officials from the ministry.

The council added that the meeting violated the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty which the country has ratified.

“Article 5.3 of FCTC has specifically stated measures to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.

“It is the clear understanding of all parties involved in tobacco control that the FCTC Unit within the Health Ministry is the only unit whose offices are tasked to have any sort of interaction with the tobacco industry; and that too in an official capacity in terms of regulating tobacco control.

“The meeting of these two officials, who are not with FCTC and have no legal or official standing with tobacco control measures, with industry officials sends a worrying signal as to their purpose,” it added.

MCTC members include the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), National Cancer Council (Makna), National Cancer Society and Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations (Fomca).

Under the proposed Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022, otherwise known as the tobacco generational end game (GEG), children born in 2007 and subsequent years will be prohibited from smoking, buying or possessing any type of smoking product, including electronic cigarettes or vape products, even after reaching the age of 18.

Apart from this, shopkeepers and cigarette vendors are also not allowed to sell smoking products to those covered by the ban.

The Health Ministry had initially proposed the ban to cover those born from Jan 1, 2005 onwards, but changed it to those born after Jan 1, 2007.

With the GEG, the government aims to reduce the smoking population to fewer than 5% by 2040.

The Bill was initially tabled by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in Parliament on July 27.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022 was supposed to be tabled for a second reading in the Dewan Rakyat by Oct 6 but that did not materialise as Parliament was dissolved.

In December 2022, Khairy’s successor Dr Zaliha Mustafa said she was hoping to fine-tune the Bill, which aims to create a smoke-free generation starting with those born after Jan 1, 2007, before the Dewan Rakyat sits for the first time in 2023.

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