Move forward with new anti-smoking law, say experts

Free from smoke: A no-smoking sign erected outside the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. — AZMAN GHANI/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Instead of worrying about how MPs were influenced by big tobacco lobbyists into dropping the Generational Endgame (GEG) element in the anti-smoking law last year, experts say it is better to start focusing on enforcing the law that has been passed.

Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh both say it is too late to dwell on the past.

Amrahi said the lobbying would not have been successful if the original Bill that incorporated the GEG element was fully supported by all quarters.

“However, we understand it was almost impossible to receive support from everyone. We expected that there will be industry players who will lobby against the proposed Bill.

“At the end of the day, the decision was up to the 222 members of Parliament,” he said.

He added that the rakyat’s wellbeing should be the main priority for MPs.

On Thursday, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Lukanisman Awang Sauni said tobacco and vape industry players had met with MPs in the House and convinced them to decouple the GEG element from the anti-smoking law.

He also said this industry pressure had resulted in conflicting views during debates over the Bill.

Amrahi said it is better to shift the focus now to ensuring the law that has been passed is able to help make Malaysia smoke-free.

“For example, the packaging of cigarettes and vaping products will be made plain. These are some efforts we need to support. If the government retables the GEG, we will support it,” he added.

Dr Sharifa Ezat said the GEG could be implemented when the prevalence of smoking declines and the population is more educated about the policy.

“What’s more important is how we treat those already addicted to tobacco and are unable to stop using traditional pharmacological treatment such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). We also need to prevent youngsters from starting tobacco,” she said.

Prof Sharifa added that the current law – while strong enough – still needs regulation on vape products that includes procurements and labelling of the products.

Citing New Zealand as an example of a country that has failed to implement the GEG, the public health expert said the move has led to unintended consequences.

“The GEG in New Zealand was repealed as it created unintended consequences such as looting attacks on shops allowed to sell cigarettes,” she said.

Anti-smoking activist NV Subbarow, however, disagreed. He said the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) was disappointed with Lukanisman’s revelation and demanded a thorough probe.

He said the GEG Bill, when tabled in the future, must be drafted with a whole-of-society approach that includes activists and experts rather than industry players.

Lukanisman’s admission has prompted various reactions, with former Health minister Khairy Jamaluddin labelling the government as “cowardly and irresponsible” for removing the GEG component of the anti-smoking Bill.

He also pointed out that Malaysia was a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention of Tobacco Control which disallows tobacco lobbyists from influencing national policies.

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