Malaysia: NST Leader: Health vs taxMalaysia:

3 April 2023

New Straits Times

MALAYSIANS are shocked. No less than Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa has thought it fit to exempt liquid nicotine from control under the Poisons Act 1952. What this means is that nicotine-laced products can be sold like any food item.

And this, too, against the expert decision of the Poisons Board. We would have thought the minister’s medical background would have helped her realise the dangers of legalising the unregulated use of nicotine-laced products, but it appears not to have helped. Dr Zaliha knows this, but we will say it anyway.

Malaysia is yet to pass the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022, which seeks to control tobacco and vape products, meaning children would be able to buy nicotine-laced products, such as electronic cigarettes, as easily as they would be able to buy toys. Talking of toys, vape products in the shape of toys are already in the market.

Malaysian politicians have never been good at explaining their actions to the people. But let’s say that is water under the bridge. Besides, this unity government has promised to take us to a good place. Making liquid nicotine easily accessible to children isn’t taking us to a good place.

True, the Poisons Act 1952 grants the health minister the power to alter the poisons list. But such alterations are to enable a good cause. But surely making unregulated nicotine-laced products freely available isn’t for a good cause. Or is it? Dr Zaliha needs to explain.

True, Dr Zaliha is now promising to rush through the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill. But the damage has been done. Between now and the passing of the bill, there is nothing to stop the children from starting the nicotine habit. Make no mistake. Anti-smoking campaigns or not, once a smoking habit is begun, there is just no stopping it.

What’s worse, nicotine may lead to other more dangerous substance abuse. What if the bill never gets passed? Not an unlikely outcome given the bill’s legislative history. Banning smoking, which the bill seeks to do for those born in 2007 and after, is hard to do in Malaysia.

Tobacco companies will see to it that a smoker is born every minute, just to keep their business going. Many have branched into the vaping industry. There is just no stopping them. They will find creative ways to get the nicotine to you.

Some members of parliament are of no help either. They just do not want to go as far as banning smoking or vaping. Never mind if a hefty public health bill for the nation follows. Call it the cost of putting the cart before the horse.

Why the nicotine rush? Malaysians were given a glimpse of the reason when this newspaper reported on Friday two ways of seeing nicotine-laced products. One was the Finance Ministry’s way of seeing and the other the Health Ministry’s way of seeing.

It was an argument from different premises: health versus wealth. Or more accurately, health versus tax. Now we know through another hurried signing off, the Excise Duties (Amendment) Order 2023, that it was all about an excise duty of 40 sen per millilitre of nicotine.

Sure, Malaysia needs to swell its fast-emptying coffers, but is legalising liquid nicotine the best way? We think not. Because the nicotine habit will be taxing the government more.


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