Govt must ensure that individual freedom for consumers be given serious attention before implementing the new policy
by AFIQ HANIF / pic HUSSIEN SHAHARUDDIN
MALAYSIANS are generally supportive of the government’s tobacco generational endgame (GEG) policy, which seeks to enact a law prohibiting smoking to individuals born from 2007 onwards.
However, the government must ensure that individual freedom for consumers be given serious attention before implementing the new policy.
Malaysian Consumer Choice Centre representative Tarmizi Anuwar said the Federal Constitution’s provision for consumer freedom has not been adequately discussed by the government.
“I believe the government has good intentions to promote a healthy lifestyle among Malaysians, and we support that, but there are some issues that must be addressed first,” he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.
Tarmizi said very little has been discussed about fundamental rights or individual freedom in this matter.
“The highest law in Malaysia, of course, is the Federal Constitution, which recognises the fundamental rights of all Malaysians and if we do not really focus on this matter, the validity of the law will be questioned.
“What if the way we walk, how we talk, the way we write are being controlled? This is a dangerous precedent and a wrong move by the government,” he added.
Moreover, an addiction therapy expert has warned that Malaysia’s GEG policy may be a step too far.
Advanced Centre for Addiction Treatment Advocacy president Dr Arifin Fii said this is because transitioning from the current tobacco control measures to a total prohibition policy via GEG would be fruitless, especially given the inefficiency of previous measures.
“My opinion is that Malaysia is not ready for GEG yet as it is a very big leap from the current tobacco control measures and is a very demanding strategy,” he said.
He added that the main purpose of tobacco control is to reduce smoking prevalence and tobacco use.
“However, we should empower the current tobacco control measures, especially on education and awareness.”
Dr Arifin said Malaysia should follow a proven effective strategy to bring down our high smoking prevalence.
“We should take New Zealand’s and the UK’s model of tobacco control because they have successfully reduced their smoking prevalence.
“Both countries include tobacco harm reduction (THR) and encourage the use of vape as a cessation tool which has been proven very effective,” he said.
Dr Arifin suggested for the government to also adopt THR using less harmful nicotine delivery alternatives such as vaping to complement the current tobacco control measures.
“New Zealand for example, which is also looking at implementing a tobacco endgame, only prohibits the selling, supply and delivery of traditional cigarettes and not vape.
“There, vaping products are regulated and promoted as a harm reduction tool, based on evidence that vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking and an effective tool for smoking cessation,” he added.
He also said that in fact, globally, there are multiple studies that have found vaping to be a less harmful alternative compared to cigarettes.
“For example, Public Health England said that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.
“Our tobacco control measures are relatively new compared to countries like New Zealand, and the people’s compliance remains very low for most of these measures.
“Despite millions of ringgit spent on tobacco control campaigns, smoking prevalence in Malaysia has only decreased by 1.8% over nine years (2011-2019),” said Dr Arifin.
The bill was tabled for its first reading in the Dewan Rakyat by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on July 27 and second reading on Aug 1 with the goal of passing it on Aug 2.
However, it was postponed until the last minute after Khairy acknowledged that MPs had differing opinions on the bill.
He then said whoever becomes health minister following the GE15 must continue to raise the bill.
A recent survey by the Malaysian Green Lung Association showed 97% of 928 respondents were in favour of the GEG.
The survey also revealed 95% of the young respondents aged 24 and below and 89% of smokers and vapers.
Meanwhile, former Chief Justice Tun Zaki Azmi drew attention to the GEG policy when he stated that this country has enacted many laws, but what is more important is whether the law aims to achieve the goal of justice and equality.
He referred to Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees the right to personal liberty, as well as Article 8, which guarantees the right to equality and equal protection under the law.
On the other hand, medical practitioner Luqmanul Hakim Khudzri described the GEG policy as a game-changer for tobacco control.
“I give my full support for Malaysia’s visionary approach in introducing the GEG policy to protect our future generations from the tobacco scourge,” he said.
He said Malaysia’s GEG is a sensible policy proposal to insulate youths from a lifelong addiction and chronic diseases, which will also reap social and economic benefits in the long term.
“I believe the GEG will greatly enhance Malaysia’s efforts to tackle the tobacco pandemic more effectively and join many other countries and jurisdictions that are focusing on the tobacco endgame,” he said.
- This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition