Some MPs concerned over enforcement of proposed tobacco bill

KUALA LUMPUR: Ahead of the second reading of the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, also known as the tobacco generational endgame (GEG) law on Monday, some members of parliament have expressed concern about its enforcement and the illegal sale of cigarettes.

While they were all for breaking the habit for health reasons and to protect children from its dangers, they claimed that some measures in the GEG seemed too ambitious.

Seputeh MP Teresa Kok said when it came to enforcement, the bill would be difficult to implement. She cited the scenario of a teenager caught smoking with his grandfather, father and uncle while having dinner in a coffee shop, but only the teenager would be penalised under the GEG law.

"So, action (will be taken) only against the teenager? It is going to be difficult," she said when contacted.

Kok said during a dialogue with MPs recently, she told Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin that the stringent law would give rise to problems during enforcement.

"The proposed law provides for a maximum fine of RM5,000 and not everyone can afford the amount. This will end up causing abuse of power and promote corruption among enforcement officers."

She added that the law would also encourage smuggling in and the illegal sale of tobacco products. As an alternative, Kok said the government should enhance its education and awareness campaigns against smoking, especially among youths and children.

"Khairy might want to leave a legacy, but this comes to whether it is enforceable or not. He has put MPs in a very difficult position. If we reject the proposed law, it will make us look like we endorse smoking, which harms our health.

"But, if we endorse it, we are also playing a part in having such a stringent law that is not enforceable and opening the door for corruption. When a law is in place, it is very difficult for us to reverse it, especially this kind of law."

On Wednesday, Khairy tabled the bill for its first reading at the Dewan Rakyat. The second reading is scheduled on Monday, with the voting possibly taking place on Tuesday.

The bill, among others, sought to ban smoking and prohibit the ownership of tobacco and vape products by those born after 2007. Khairy had said the country would have to spend RM8 billion to treat lung cancer, heart problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases by 2030.

The government, he said, had already spent RM6.2 billion to treat the three major smoking-related diseases in 2020 — more than twice the RM3 billion revenue generated from tobacco sales.

Beruas MP Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham also expressed concern that the good intention might lead to negative consequences.

He said with no advertisement and no display of tobacco products on the shelves under the proposed law; "people will begin to sell them secretly".

"The enforcement officers will not know what is being sold and sometimes, when things are being done in secret, people may abuse it and sell cigarettes that are more harmful than those approved by the government.

"Because you cannot advertise, so enforcement officers would not know what you are selling."

Ngeh said he was a firm believer in educating the children and the public on the dangers of smoking, and getting people to say no to smoking was more effective in curbing the habit.

"If you have a law but cannot enforce it effectively, it becomes a mockery. We believe in the principle that every individual knows how to best take care of themselves and it should be respected.

"I'm advocating for education and discipline rather than criminalising. Schools should play their role by educating children and youths against smoking. Being in their youth, they are in an adventurous phase and like to go against the norm and authorities. 

"So, it is best to educate and instill discipline at school."

Ngeh added another effective way was through societal pressure, where smoking should be made a nuisance and looked down upon.

"Portray them (the smokers) as irresponsible. If we make smoking as something to be looked down on, that will be more effective."

Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) of Health, Science and Innovation chairman Dr Kelvin Yii (DAP-Bandar Kuching) in a Facebook post recently said the committee had expressed concern about enforcement issues, especially when it involved children.

"The power to inspect, possibly body check and punish a child for possession must be heavily controlled to prevent abuse. That is why the guidelines for enforcement must be very clear and specific to ensure the vulnerable are not victimised by the law, especially the poor."

He said the committee, after engagements with multiple stakeholders and getting input from experts in the field, had come up with recommendations on the bill.

The main recommendations were to postpone enforcement of the GEG law for three years to strengthen preparations for effective implementation, including preparing a proper inter-governmental enforcement framework and inserting a clause to enable two "Mandatory Evaluations" for the Act.

"The Mandatory Assessment Report done in the PSSC should then be brought to parliament in the form of a motion for debate and be voted on," he said.

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