SEATCA: Break cycle of nicotine addiction, expedite Malaysia’s GEG bill

5 August 2022

By Audrey Dermawan, New Straits Times


GEORGE TOWN: The Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) is dismayed by the deferment of the long overdue Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill by Malaysian policymakers, saying that any delay means a delay in protecting the young.

SEATCA senior policy adviser Dr Mary Assunta said the tobacco generational endgame (GEG) component of the bill was forward-looking and a long-term solution to better protect the youth due to the increasing smoking prevalence among teenagers.

She said Malaysia’s current law needed to be strengthened to address the tobacco epidemic.

Today’s teens, she said, could easily obtain vape products, as surveys in Malaysia revealed.

She added that regulators would be fighting a losing battle if the tobacco products’ regulatory law did not have an endgame component.

“Policymakers should not be distracted from their responsibility of protecting children and breaking the cycle of addiction gripping the future generation.

“The proposed bill is a pro-child, pro-health and pro-future policy that will empower regulators and create a long-term solution to the tobacco epidemic.

“Only the tobacco and the vaping industries will benefit from delaying the bill.

“Don’t hand children over to the industries to turn them into lifelong smokers and vapers,” she said today.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told the Dewan Rakyat that the bill would be referred to a parliamentary special select committee (PSSC).

He said after two days of debate, as well as after taking into complaints and suggestions, the government had decided against sending the bill to a vote.

Dr Mary said Malaysia was making progress in implementing tobacco control measures following the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) global tobacco treaty.

She pointed out that, however, the tobacco industry had been sabotaging these efforts through a variety of tactics, including online promotion of new tobacco products to youth, funding groups to argue with bogus science, and using the threat of illicit trade to oppose legitimate and effective measures.

“Although smoking and vaping are serious risk factors for Covid-19, the tobacco industry continued producing and selling tobacco and vapour products throughout the pandemic, even delivering them directly to consumers. The industry made profits to the detriment of its customers.

“Too many false narratives were circulated by the tobacco industry and its sympathisers, clouding good decision-making.”

One argument is that endgame measures will criminalise children.

“Countries that have drawn up endgame strategies are consistent with WHO FCTC’s Article 16, which calls for a ban on sales to and by minors. This clause is also compatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Malaysia is a party. It states that children should be protected from harm.

“Another false narrative is that strong tobacco control measures, including the GEG, will fuel the illicit trade. This is just a scare tactic without any basis.

“Singapore has good control of the illicit tobacco trade despite having banned e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, standardised tobacco packaging and raised the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old.

“Singapore also has among the world’s most stringent tobacco control policies and its smoking prevalence declined to about 10 per cent in 2020.

“This emphasises that illicit trade is not driven by tobacco control measures and can be controlled with effective law enforcement.”