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Health minister sued by child rights, anti-tobacco groups for delisting liquid nicotine

They say Dr Zaliha Mustafa breached the Poisons Act as well as Malaysia's international commitments.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa. Photo: Bernama
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa. Photo: Bernama

Health and child rights groups have mounted a legal challenge to Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa and the government for exempting liquid nicotine from the Poisons Act 1952 despite strong objections from public health advocates. 

Galen Centre's CodeBlue reported that the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), which represents over 40 organisations, the Malaysian Green Lung Association (MGLA), and the Voice of the Children (VoC) filed for judicial reivew at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on June 30.

They are seeking an order to quash the removal of liquid nicotine as a scheduled poison. 

They are also seeking a stay of proceedings on the order, pending the disposal of their hearing.

They also claimed that Zaliha had breached the Poisons Act by overriding the Poisons Board on the matter, and that the exemption of liquid nicotine was contrary to the health ministry's own policy objectives in the so-called generational endgame bill of prohibiting tobacco products, e-cigarettes, and vape for those born from Jan 1, 2007 onwards.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill was spearheaded by Zaliha's predecessor Khairy Jamaluddin but has yet to be passed in Parliament. 

MCTC, MGLA, and VoC said in their court filing that it was "unclear" when the bill would be tabled for second reading or passed, CodeBlue added. 

Claiming that the declassification of liquid nicotine would "effectively legalise" any level of nicotine content in vape and e-cigarettes given the lack of legislation on the matter, they also said that the order gazetted by Zaliha as well as the power to make such an order was unconstitutional.

They likewise said that the deregulation of liquid nicotine was in breach of Malaysia's international commitments, citing the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Zaliha announced the exemption on March 30, in the face of objections from Malaysian Pharmacists Society, Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control and Galen Centre.

The vape industry was worth an estimated RM2.49 billion as of February this year, and is expected to continue growing.

The health ministry announced on June 13 that the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2022 had recorded an increase in vaping or the use of e-cigarettes among teenagers aged 13 to 17, from 9.8% in 2017 to 14.9% in 2022.

It said a significant increase was also recorded among teenage girls, from 2.8% in 2017 to 6.2% in 2022.