Court action over delisting of nicotine a last resort, says tobacco control NGO

KUALA LUMPUR: The judicial review filed by three NGOs against the Health Ministry for removing nicotine from the Poisons List was a last resort after other approaches failed, says the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC).

Its president Dr M Murallitharan said they had constantly engaged with the executive and legislative branches of the government but the outcomes were unsatisfactory.

"Through the executive branch, we engaged with various government agencies to ensure better tobacco control.

"MCTC had repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that delisting nicotine would lead to a 'lacuna' in which this harmful substance would be widely available to the public for consumption," he told a press conference here on Tuesday (July 4).

ALSO READ: Delisting nicotine could put kids at risk of addiction, say groups

He said the hasty decision to delist nicotine from the Poisons List was something MCTC along with various public health experts and organisations consistently spoke against.

"Our input was ignored, and nicotine was made available openly, much to the detriment of the public.

"Unfortunately, various (Health) Ministry officials including the Minister and her special advisors ironically acknowledged the existence of this lacuna and the harm it has caused, including its possible implication in the deaths of children," he added.

Murallitharan said MCTC had also hoped Parliament would bring some relief and pass the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023.

"Despite this, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for Health.

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"With no Parliament session until October at the earliest, it means this lacuna will continue to exist," he added.

On June 30, MCTC along with the Malaysian Green Lung Association (MGLA) and Voice of the Children (VoC) filed a legal challenge over the Health Ministry’s decision to remove nicotine from the list of controlled substances under the Poisons Act 1952.

They filed for leave for a judicial review application through Kanesalingam & Co at the High Court on June 30.

Murallitharan stressed that there was no political agenda behind the judicial review.

"It is aimed to examine the actions from different government branches, and specifically the Health Ministry, to determine if their actions are consistent with the Constitution.

"Actions judged inconsistent are declared unconstitutional and therefore, null and void.

ALSO READ: MMA dissatisfied with Health Ministry's explanation on nicotine exemption from Poisons Act

"This is part of the democratic processes of law and is a request to review the decision made, rather than targeting individuals or the government with any political motive in mind," he added.

He also called upon the Health Ministry and Attorney General’s Chambers to not challenge the leave for judicial review, as it is done in the interest of public health.

"This will send a clear signal that the Ministry and government remain committed to protecting Malaysians' health," he added.

The leave for judicial review application will be heard on July 26.

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