Upcoming tobacco law could go up in smoke without political will, govt warned

The Pakatan Harapan government introduced a nationwide smoking ban this year, as part of its war against tobacco.

PETALING JAYA: Plans to curb smoking with tougher tobacco regulations will not yield results unless there is political will from Putrajaya to enforce such laws, say MPs from the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and those involved in public health issues.

They also warn that tougher laws will not mean anything if the public remains ignorant about the dangers of smoking.

“We have capital punishment for drug trafficking but it hasn’t stopped that problem,” said DAP’s Charles Santiago.

“The real solution is in education and awareness that smoking is a detriment to health and a burden to the healthcare system.”

Putrajaya is planning to introduce a new law by year-end, with Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad saying a new Tobacco Control Bill to control all tobacco-related products and e-cigarettes is expected to be introduced by then.

The PH government has already introduced a nationwide ban on smoking in public places including restaurants, which came into effect on Jan 1.

Subang MP Wong Chen said more can be done, including learning from Singapore, which has some of the world’s toughest regulations aimed at curbing the smoking habit among its citizens.

He said a high tax of between 65% and 75% on cigarettes and tobacco products, such as recommended by the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, would force smokers to cut down on the habit.

There is a grey area in current anti-tobacco laws on what constitutes a tobacco product.

But he said there is also the problem of smuggling and leakage in enforcement.

“To ensure better enforcement, officers also need to be reasonably paid to deter them from turning a blind eye to smuggling.”

Smuggled cigarettes come under various disguises and are much cheaper than legit brands.

Public health activist Azrul Mohd Khalib said the new law could harmonise the government’s policy positions and decisions on tobacco control.

“It will also be expected to be updated to clear up confusion or misunderstanding regarding tobacco devices which don’t fit current legal definitions,” said Azrul, who heads the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy.

He said Putrajaya must stand firm on any decision geared towards curbing the smoking habit, including addressing the loopholes in existing tobacco laws.

“This includes those which have allowed for cheap cigarillos to be sold and heat-not-burn tobacco products to enter the market,” he said, referring to a recent revelation by FMT of “mini-cigars” being sold in East Malaysia.

Tobacco group British American Tobacco Malaysia has defended the sale of the cheaper “mini-cigars”, saying they are compliant with laws related to non-cigarettes.

Former health minister Dr S Subramaniam agreed that smoking products which do not legally fall under the definition of tobacco should also be targeted by the proposed law.

“In our discussions (in the past), we identified this as an area of contention as leaving this group unregulated would make it very difficult to enforce the provisions provided for in the Tobacco Control Act,” said Subramaniam, whose previous crackdown on e-cigarettes was met with protest by vape sellers and politicians.