Consumer group: Govt must attain wider understanding before implementing generational endgame to ban tobacco, smoking products

·4-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR, July 23 — A consumer group today described the Health Ministry’s move to ban the sale of tobacco and smoking product to those born in 2005 onwards, in a move labelled as the generational end-game (GEG), as a mistake and an oversimplified approach.

In a statement today, the Harm Awareness Association (HAA) said the vision behind the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill ignores the fact that the various risk-reduced products do not all have the equal impact and risks of conventional products.

HAA said that the inability to distinguish between the products will also hurt the ministry’s plans to reduce illegal cigarettes, as the demand for illicit black-market products will spike, including other tobacco and vape products among people who seek to get their nicotine fixes.

“Representing the voices of the consumers in Malaysia, the Harm Awareness Association is in view that the principle behind implementing GEG is a mistake, and it is an oversimplification approach by lumping cigarettes, vapes, and other tobacco products into a single category.

“It is known that Malaysia’s smoking prevalence continues to remain high at 21.3 per cent as reported in the National Health & Morbidity Survey 2019. This is because there is a lack of enforcement and resources to stifle the illicit cigarette market and a lack of measures that effectively address demand and supply loopholes as well as an absence of acknowledgment of other less harmful alternatives that can reduce the smoking prevalence despite the large cohort of over 1 million vape users,” Aziaan Ariffin, the HAA president said.

He added that the introduction of a novel policy that intends to ban all tobacco and vape products would also overwhelm enforcement bodies that are already preoccupied with an ever-thriving black market.

He said such existing issues must be tackled before new policies are introduced.

“If Malaysia proceeds with GEG and fails to distinguish between combustible cigarettes and other less harmful non-combustible products, this will lead to several unintended beneficiaries, including costing the government billions more annually in evaded tax due to the growth of the huge illicit market, and there will be more illicit alternative products such as unregulated vape juice, liquid nicotine, and contraband devices, that do not observe good manufacturing practices,” Aziaan added.

He warned that the illicit and contraband e-cigarette liquids and devices may also cause greater health implications to users who are willing to risk their safety for cheaper options, should the Bill get passed into law.

“Implementing an indiscriminate policy that treats cigarettes, vape and other tobacco products alike, also means that the Malaysian government is ignoring the rights of consumers in making informed decisions about their consumption of less risky products,” he said.

He said Putrajaya must also consider the huge implications of the planned ban, which goes beyond the number of illicit cigarettes sold.

“The proceeds from these illegal cigarettes have been reported to fuel organised crime, nefarious activities as well as the international smuggling and black-market trades of other goods,” he added.

Aziaan proposed four measures to the government on the Bill and the GEG, firstly, calling for a detailed study to develop a proper roadmap towards the ban.

He said that New Zealand had carried out a similar, incremental study to attain industry and public opinion and that this could be done through a government-to-government collaboration for knowledge exchange and opportunities.

“Exhaust all tobacco control measures, including creating an effective, multi-agency enforcement team on current tobacco regulations to combat black markets “Consult with other relevant government agencies such as Miti EPU, MoF, KPDNHEP, and others to attain a wider understanding of the impact and possible social and economic consequences of GEG. Perform a proper and independent review of all scientific studies and research on smoking alternatives as a complementary measure to reduce smoking prevalence towards achieving the vision of GEG,” he said in his list of suggestions.

Miti refers to the International Trade and Industry Ministry, EPU refers to the Economic Planning Unit, MoF refers to the Ministry of Finance and KPDNHEP refers to the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry.

Last week, New Straits Times (NST) reported Health Minister Khairy as saying the Bill was approved by the Cabinet on July 13.

He reportedly said that the Bill would be tabled in the current parliamentary meeting.

The proposed Bill essentially prevents those born on January 1, 2005 and onwards from ever purchasing tobacco and tobacco-related products, even when they reach 18 years’ old or the current legal age for consumption.