GEG Bill: Putting a stop to 'harm initiation'

PUTRAJAYA: Health experts have called on lawmakers to pass the revised Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill in Parliament to stop youths from becoming addicted to nicotine.

National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) managing director Dr Murallitharan Munisamy said the bill, popularly called the smoking generational endgame, must be passed into law to address the problem of "harm initiation".

"If nicotine products such as vape are touted as a method of 'harm reduction' from cigarettes, they will come in a form and size accessible to smokers.

"If we regulate this (by implementing the bill), those under the age of 18 will not be exposed to nicotine products at all."

Dr Murallitharan said this was one of the main purposes of the bill, and it was also hoped that young people would carry this no-smoking mindset into adulthood.

"If the younger generation is not exposed to nicotine products, they will not go for it even if they are adults.

"Even if we put it in front of them, they will not take it as they have been taught since young that these products are inaccessible to them."

He added that vaping, which was touted by tobacco companies as a method of "harm reduction", was a double-edged sword as some smokers would consume both cigarettes and vape.

"This can be seen as a form of harm intensification, where smokers go for both cigarettes and vape. It is just substituting one harmful substance with another."

He added that the chemicals and additives in vape liquids were proven to be carcinogenic.

"We can see at the cellular level that upon exposure to vape liquids, it can lead to cell transformation.

"This is what we call metaplasia, and this is the first and second stages towards the cell becoming cancerous."

Tengkawang Health Clinic family medicine specialist Dr Suhazeli Abdullah said the bill must be implemented because nicotine consumption among youths was increasing.

He said this was due to unregulated sale and distribution of cigarettes, vape devices and liquids, which the bill would help to control.

"The bill must be implemented as soon as possible. We see that more teenagers are vaping.

"A study has shown that their number is on the rise from 9.8 per cent in 2017, to 14.9 per cent last year. This is a drastic rise and we can see it for ourselves.

"Teenagers are also easily influenced to consume these products as they are eye-catching, coming in bright colours and attractive packaging."

He added that currently, nicotine products such as cigarettes could be controlled as there were laws for their sale and distribution.

"However, this is not the case for vape products, where the nicotine content is much higher than cigarettes. A typical vape can contain 20, 30 or even 60mg of nicotine per ml.

With the passing of the bill, Dr Suhazeli said vape products could be regulated to stop them from becoming the "first step" to drug addiction.

"Vape products could be a gateway to drug abuse if they are not controlled, such as the consumption of ganja-laced e-liquids."

Dr Suhazeli said the bill would also help the country's economy as it would save the government from spending around RM4 billion to RM6 billion a year to treat people suffering from smoking complications.

"If we look at it in the long run, the bill will reduce the financial burden of the government to treat Malaysians who are suffering from the complications of smoking and vaping."

Therefore, he reiterated the call for the bill to be passed in Parliament as soon as possible.

IKRAM Health Malaysia president Dr Mohd Afiq Mohd Nor hoped that the bill would be passed in Parliament to ensure that the younger generation did not smoke or vape.

"We want to make sure that our children are protected from nicotine consumption."

Dr Afiq also added that the public should not see the bill as a punishment to those who were smoking or vaping, but instead, see it as a preventative measure.

Under the bill, companies and individuals who sell tobacco products to those born after Jan 1, 2007 could face legal action.

If passed, the new law would not only be applicable to conventional smoking products, but also "next generation" products, including vapes and other electronic smoking devices.

The Health Ministry had referred the bill to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for further discussion with stakeholders after its first reading in June.

The first version of the bill, then named the "Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022", was tabled in Parliament in July last year.

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