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Santiago challenges MITI on plain cigarette packaging

 | February 25, 2016

Klang MP points out MITI has jumped on the bandwagon by joining in lawsuit to hinder Australia’s efforts to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes.


PETALING JAYA: Klang MP Charles Santiago has urged International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed to “come clean” on whether or not his ministry supports the Health’ Ministry’s call for plain packaging for cigarette packs.

In a press statement issued today, Santiago claimed the Health Ministry’s call for plain packaging had not got the approval of MITI because Malaysia was currently part of a suit involving 37 countries at the World Trade Organisation against Australia’s move to implement plain packaging to reduce smoking.

“It seems like MITI and the Health Ministry are not consulting each other on policy decisions. Maybe MITI is the big bully here, but I wonder which ministry is responsible for public health policies.”

He said it was “preposterous” that on one hand the Health Ministry had suggested that plain packaging was a necessary tool to reduce smoking, but on the other MITI had jumped on the bandwagon hindering another country’s efforts to enforce a similar law.

Santiago also questioned whether the government would be able to enforce its decision given that it’s a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and may face a potential legal backlash after plain packaging for cigarette packets is legislated.

“Today, 15 other countries, aside from Australia, had either been sued by a tobacco multinational or have shelved plans for plain packaging.

“Even governments of Canada and New Zealand have put their plans on the backburner, fearing that they too would be dragged to an arbitration centre by a tobacco giant like Philip Morris.”

Santiago pointed out that although Philip Morris’ case against the Australian government was dismissed, that was only decided on its jurisdiction and did not answer the question as to whether a corporation could challenge a government’s health policy simply because it reduced its profits.

“While the Health Ministry is confident that the TPPA will not open a minefield of suits against Malaysia, the government must realise the practical reality of the manner in which these tobacco firms operate.”

He explained that the TPPA would allow tobacco leaf growers to sue Malaysia if their investments are hurt and even pave the way for “treaty shopping” by tobacco companies.

“Philip Morris deployed this tactic when taking on the Australian government. The TPPA will provide further ammunition for a similar card to be played.”

Santiago commended the government for wanting to promote a progressive public health policy in the interests of the people.

“It looks as if Malaysia has suddenly grown a conscience in wanting to introduce plain packaging, especially since at least 20,000 Malaysians die yearly due to smoking and almost one in four people smoke daily.

“However, these efforts are being undermined by MITI, thus Tok Pa (Minister Mustapa) has got a lot of explaining to do.”


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