Fair game for the tobacco endgame

Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.

Mark Twain, American writer

Amid the expectation and anticipation leading up to the passing of the anti-party hopping Bill on Thursday, another proposed law flew under the radar.

Its impact is far-reaching; its consequences, severe – just as severe if not more than the anti-party hopping Bill.

I am of course referring to the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill tabled by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on Wednesday (July 27).

Dubbed as the tobacco generational endgame (GEG) law, it is aimed at snuffing the smoking habit and protecting the health of Malaysians.

A noble intention, no less, but one that many is cautioning will have a myriad of unintended consequences.

Of course, with the lofty goal of making Malaysia a tobacco-free country by 2040, it is bound to dissent.

National portal MalaysiaNow put up a piece reporting that a flurry of letters had circulated in the media to thwart the Bill coming from tobacco firms.

“Tobacco firms in Malaysia have embarked on an intense letter-writing campaign in the media. Using various pseudonyms, some of the letters provide a seemingly ‘objective’ argument to counter the Health Ministry’s ‘tobacco generational endgame.

“While others mock Khairy’s battle to get the Tobacco Product and Smoking Control Bill passed in the Dewan Rakyat,” the report read.

I too have read various opinions on the matter with many questioning the rationale behind the law being only applicable to those born after 2007.

The Bill aims to prohibit those born after January 1, 2007 from purchasing or possessing cigarettes or vape products, with a fine not exceeding RM5,000 given to those who are caught buying, smoking, or possessing smoking-related products.

The Bill also stipulates that no one will be allowed to sell cigarettes or vape products or provide smoking services to those born after 2007.

Anyone found doing so is liable to a fine not exceeding RM20,000 or not more than a year in jail, or both, for their first offence. Second offenders would be liable to a fine of no more than RM30,000 or jail time for up to two years, or both.

This led to the hypothetical situation of what happens if two persons – one born after Jan 1, 2007 and the other one before – are caught smoking.

Will the younger individual be the only one penalised – if so, isn’t it a bit selective in terms of enforcement. Is it constitutional for the law to apply to only one party but not the other? I leave those to the legal minds – which I am not.

Of course, if this is the case, then there would many unintended consequences that would follow as with any drastic change.

I am not here to poke holes – I am supportive of the proposed law, but it is early days for its implementation.

The Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSC) of Health, Science and Innovation has echoed this sentiment, recommending the GEG implementation to be postponed by three years.

They also suggested that GEG be fully implemented after an evaluation period of 10 years to assess the compliance and effectiveness of the law, combatting illicit cigarettes and punishment imposed on juveniles.

The PSC also expressed its concern on the enforcement issues, especially involving juveniles and children, including the power to inspect, conduct body checks and impose punishment on those in possession.

I think all of those are fair points – and consultation is the name of the game when introducing ground-breaking laws such as these.

Regardless, the proposed law has obtained green light from members of the public through a quick survey conducted by a national daily.

Close to 80 per cent of netizens who participated in the New Straits Times’ poll on Instagram, asking followers whether they support the Bill, said “yes”.

Seventy-five per cent or 268 people of the total 358 people who participated, were looking forward to Malaysia enacting the law that seeks to ban smoking and possession of tobacco products, including vape, to the younger generation.

The polls reflected similar sentiments to a recent survey, “Malaysian Acceptability of Generation End Game Policy: A Public Opinion Poll”, by the Malaysian Green Lung Association where more than 97 per cent of 928 respondents were in favour of the GEG.

In essence, scrutiny is needed to ensure a watertight implementation of GEG. It is here to provide answers rather than pose questions.

With the political will of those in power, I believe it will be sorted in due time.

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