Strike Back Against Big Tobacco With Plain Packaging, Display Ban After GEG Defeat: Khairy

8 March 2024

By CodeBlue

Khairy Jamaluddin urges the government to strike back against Big Tobacco with plain packaging and retail display bans, after GEG was dropped. He also calls for regulations under Act 852, which has yet to be enforced, to restrict vape sales to specialty stores.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 8 — Khairy Jamaluddin has called for plain packaging and a retail display ban on cigarettes and other tobacco products, in exchange for the government dropping the generational end game (GEG). 

The former health minister – speaking last Monday on the 87th episode of the Keluar Sekejap podcast co-hosted with Shahril Hamdan – claimed that the regulations under the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Act 2024 (Act 852) have yet to be brought to Cabinet for approval.

Despite gazettement of Act 852 last February 2, the standalone law on tobacco and vape control still has yet to be enforced, likely because the regulations are not ready. Act 852 only comes into operation on a date set by the health minister. 

“If you lost to Big Tobacco on GEG, you strike back with plain packaging and a display ban. I know Big Tobacco hates this idea,” Khairy said.

“But I’m told that there are Big Tobacco advocates who oppose this suggestion from the Ministry of Health (MOH). MOH wants to do this; MOH officers are excellent. But there are Big Tobacco advocates in high places of government who are against this,” added the former health minister.

Regulations under principal legislation, including Act 852, can be prescribed by the minister without needing parliamentary approval.

According to a 2020 editorial by the Tobacco Induced Diseases journal, 17 countries, including Singapore, have adopted plain packaging of tobacco products, as of October 2020.

Plain packaging laws standardise the appearance of cigarette packs by prohibiting all design features. The packs must appear in standard colours, while a brand name in a plain font may appear on the pack.

In a retail display ban, cigarettes and other tobacco products cannot be sold in open view at the counter of a shop. A study by Imperial College London, released in 2018, found that a 2015 tobacco display ban in all shops in the United Kingdom may have reduced the proportion of children buying cigarettes by 17 per cent in England. 

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s government inexplicably dropped the GEG proposal to prohibit cigarettes and vape for anyone born from 2007 from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill, ostensibly on grounds that the cohort-based ban was unconstitutional.

Despite a fractious debate by MPs on both sides of the divide, the bill was passed by the Dewan Rakyat in a vote last November 30, a day after the combative debate that saw backbenchers accusing the government of caving in to the tobacco industry. The bill subsequently passed the Dewan Negara.

Khairy also pointed out that vape sales have been completely unrestricted for nearly a year now, after then-Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa removed liquid nicotine from the list of scheduled poisons under the Poisons Act 1952 last March 31 in a veto of unanimous objection from the Poisons Board.

Although restricted from minors aged below 18, nicotine e-cigarettes and vape are now commonly sold at the counters of convenience stores, mamak restaurants, and even from vending machines in universities. 

“When there are no regulations – and this is specifically for the sale of vape – vape sales will be widespread,” Khairy said.

“Psychologically, when a minor, or child, or teen aged below 18 sees widespread sale of vape with flavours like lemon or strawberry, what do you think is going to happen?

“When I was in MOH, I had informed officers that when we draft a bill, the regulations must come out quickly. I disagreed with removing liquid nicotine from the Poisons List. I said, if we were to do that but the regulations aren’t ready, that means vape can be sold anywhere.”

The former health minister said the regulations under Act 852 should have been prepared immediately when the bill was passed in the Dewan Rakyat last November. “But I understand that the regulations still aren’t there.”

Khairy suggested that vape sales be restricted to “specific stores”. Besides sale in convenience shops, e-cigarettes or vape are also sold in specialty stores.