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'Today tobacco, tomorrow foreign govt?': Putrajaya urged to set up royal inquiry on who killed GEG bill

Vocal Penang-based consumer group CAP says the public should be told the identity of MPs 'kowtowing' to lobbyists it says are like 'drug merchants'.

3 minute read
Tobacco lobbyists had visited Parliament building last year to pressure MPs into abandoning the GEG, a proposed law to ban smoking among the future generations.
Tobacco lobbyists had visited Parliament building last year to pressure MPs into abandoning the GEG, a proposed law to ban smoking among the future generations.

Putrajaya has been urged to set up a royal commission of inquiry into a revelation last week that tobacco companies had lobbied MPs inside the Parliament house, leading to the abandonment of the much publicised generational endgame (GEG) bill introduced by the previous government. 

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) said the public must be told the extent of the infiltration and influence that the lobbyists had on MPs.

"We also want to know who is behind the sabotage of GEG. Unless this corruption of the parliamentary process is prevented, it will open the door for external forces, including foreign governments, to influence the government to serve their agenda," said CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader.

He added that the move had defiled the sanctity of Parliament and violated the international convention on tobacco control.

He also cited Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization's Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, which was ratified by Malaysia in 2005, urging parties to protect anti-tobacco policies "from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law".

"We want to know why Malaysian policymakers allowed the industry to influence the outcome of the proposed GEG bill," Mohideen said, adding that it was an "absolute shame" that the legislative process had been subverted. 

"This should not be in any way tolerated."

Former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
Former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

The GEG provision, part of the Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill tabled in July 2022 by former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin, had been opposed by several Pakatan Harapan MPs who were in the opposition at the time, including current prime minister Anwar Ibrahim who urged the government not to "bulldoze" it through. 

MalaysiaNow reported then that representatives from the tobacco industry were present at Parliament to lobby MPs in opposing the bill.

The bill sought to prohibit smoking and the possession of tobacco and vape products for those born after 2007, a move that was expected to bring down the percentage of smokers in Malaysia from 21% to 5% by 2040.

Questions were however raised about the future of the GEG provision following the change of government after the 2022 general election. 

Just four months into office, then health minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa delisted liquid or gel nicotine – the main ingredient for vape products – from the Poisons Act, not only allowing the government to profit from taxes on vape products, but also for the legal sale of the substance to minors. 

The decision was made despite protest from the Malaysian Pharmacists Society, Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control and public health group Galen Centre.

The move also angered the medical fraternity and public health experts, with some 40 organisations and stakeholders taking the minister to court by filing a judicial review and an order to quash the removal of liquid nicotine as a scheduled poison. 

In November last year, the government said it would no longer include the GEG provision in the bill, which was eventually passed by the Dewan Rakyat.

The decision prompted Khairy to "congratulate" big tobacco companies, saying they had succeeded in their lobbying efforts. 

"I crafted the GEG for public health. And the bill that I brought to Parliament which contained the GEG and measures to regulate vape sale received support from the public health community," he said.

"They had wanted vape to be banned, full stop. But we managed to find a middle ground where we included the GEG provision. Now, that has been dropped."

Last week, Deputy Health Minister Lukanisman Awang Sauni admitted that tobacco lobbyists had indeed been present in Parliament.

"The industry entered Parliament and the industry met with MPs, which influenced the decision," he told Dewan Rakyat on March 14.

Reacting to the admission, Khairy said it confirmed that the government's decision to abandon the GEG was due to big tobacco lobbyists and not because it was unconstitutional, as claimed by the attorney-general at the time.

"Finally we know the truth, that the decision was made not for the sake of public health, but to succumb to the commercial interests of these companies," Khairy said in his Keluar Sekejap podcast.

CAP said the lobbyists were like "drug merchants" as they were selling nicotine, an addictive substance, and wanted it to be legalised despite the potential harm to the country.

"Unfortunately, there are some policymakers who are complicit in this grand scheme of things, excluding the GEG to serve the agenda of the lobbyists who want to continue addicting Malaysians for many generations to come so that they can profit from it," said Mohideen.