Decriminalise smoking, vaping and possession of smoking products under GEG bill, says think tank

KUALA LUMPUR: A think tank has urged the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) reviewing the tobacco generational endgame (GEG) bill to remove Clause 17 of the legislation.

The clause criminalises smoking, vaping as well as the possession of any tobacco products or smoking devices by those born in 2007 and onwards.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive officer Azrul Mohd Khalib said the law should instead put the burden on retailers, companies and corporations to not sell or supply tobacco and vape products to the GEG generation.

"Clause 17 makes the proposed legislation vulnerable to accusations of selective prosecutive, creates stigma and discrimination and marginalises a group of people who will need support and assistance.

"Despite our best efforts, in the future there will be people in the GEG group who smoke and vape, and become addicted to nicotine. Should they be punished?

"The legislation should ensure that it is an offence to legally sell or supply tobacco or vape products to those born from Jan 1, 2007.

"It should not criminalise individual possession or usage. This is the approach taken by New Zealand through its Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill. We should do the same," he said in a statement today.

Azrul stressed that anyone addicted to nicotine has the right to be treated equally under the law, with compassion and dignity.

Therefore, he said the GEG bill should not be allowed to disproportionately affect young people, people from low income groups and vulnerable populations.

"We have learnt from the bitter experience of Malaysia's war on drug abuse that the legal assault is often on the individuals who fall victim to addiction.

"Sixty per cent of the over 69,000 prison inmates in Malaysia are minor drug offenders, who have been convicted for consumption, use and possession of various narcotics such as marijuana.

"Even without imprisonment, Clause 17 has the potential to create enormous harm by repeating the same mistakes made during our drug war.

"By removing Clause 17, the concerns regarding enforcement under Part IX (of the bill) and its implications to individual smokers and vapers such as warrantless searches, seizure of property and access to private information can be properly focused on individual retailers, companies and corporations selling, supplying and manufacturing tobacco products and vape," he said.

Azrul also said that the bill had the best chance to be passed in the upcoming Dewan Rakyat sitting.

"If it fails to be passed this time around, it might be another decade before we see the kind of leadership and vision demonstrated in this attempt.

"It might be years before vape is finally regulated, and for tobacco consumption to finally be reduced in Malaysia.

"By that time, thousands of people would have certainly lost their lives. Billions of ringgit in health expenditure would also have been spent,"he said.

The PSSC, chaired by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, will hold its first meeting to review the GEG, otherwise known as the Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022, this week. Khairy had tabled the bill for its first reading in Dewan Rakyat on July 27.

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