While Malaysia has a chance to create history if the so-called generational endgame (GEG) bill to curb the smoking habit among the youth is passed into law, a number of hurdles remain including objections from the cigarette and tobacco industry and apparent hesitation from among the MPs themselves.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who tabled the Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022 for a first reading on July 27, had said that it could save up to two million lives in the country.
But as the debate continues in the Dewan Rakyat, a number of MPs have signalled reservations about the bill, including opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who urged the government not to “bulldoze” it through.
When contacted by MalaysiaNow, others declined to comment, among them former health minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad of Amanah.
Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, meanwhile, who leads the special select committee on health, science and innovation, said the committee agreed in principle with the GEG bill.
He said this was especially since the bill involved the health and well-being of the people and the generations to come, as well as the regulation of tobacco products.
“But we acknowledge the different concerns raised by all stakeholders and see the need to address the weaknesses in implementation.
“This is to ensure that the act will achieve its goals without taking on unintended risks,” he said in a statement to MalaysiaNow.
Yii said this was why the committee recommended that Putrajaya postpone the implementation of the GEG for three years, to allow it to strengthen its preparations including the framework for enforcement among government bodies.
Yii said the committee also suggested that the bill include a clause on mandatory assessments for reports made in the parliamentary select committee (PSC), which would then be brought to Parliament in the form of a motion for debate and put to vote.
Former deputy health director-general (public health) Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said he believed that the bill was being politicised even though it had nothing to do with money.
“Why this is so might be due to a number of interests, because many excuses being given are in tandem with what is expressed by the cigarette and vape industry,” he said.
“This is why I ask that all MPs declare any conflict of interest, if individuals or parties have received contributions from the cigarette or vape industry.”
Last week, representatives from the industry were said to have been present at Parliament to lobby MPs in opposing the bill.
About 21% of the population in Malaysia is estimated to smoke.
Khairy previously said that this could be brought down to 4% if the GEG bill is implemented.
Those who oppose the bill say, among others, that it could lead to a surge of activity on the black market.
Data analyst K Pankaj said some 57.7% of cigarettes in the country are contraband, an argument frequently put forward by critics of the bill.
"Illicit cigarettes are cheap, which causes high demand," he said, adding that such goods are easily smuggled in.
"In terms of tax collection, the government takes RM3 billion from the remaining 43% of legal cigarettes. It could collect about RM8 billion if there was no smuggling of cigarettes."
For Pankaj, the bill appears punitive in nature and difficult to implement.
He said if the government could not control illegal trade in the country, it would find it hard to control the sale of contraband cigarettes.
For Lokman, though, the issue of enforcement involves all laws and is not confined merely to cigarettes.
"What is there that is not smuggled in this country?" he said. "Petrol, diesel, cooking oil, even human beings are smuggled.
"So whose issue is this enforcement problem? I say that it is a government problem at all levels, whether federal, state or local government."
He added that MPs have a moral responsibility to support the Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022.
"MPs are policymakers," he said. "The basic policy of this bill is that cigarettes and vape are harmful to health.
"So MPs need to agree with it and support the bill."