NST Leader: Govt's smoke signal

THE "Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023" has finally made it to Parliament.

We laud the government for pushing through this piece of legislation despite the controversy it has faced. It is not the ideal law, to be sure. Most laws aren't.

Anti-smoking advocates are unhappy though because the bill has got through to third reading in Parliament without the generational endgame  (GEG) clause.

Interestingly, New Zealand, which was a model for Malaysia's generational endgame clause, is abandoning anti-smoking laws, including GEG-like provisions. It will go down in history as the first country to introduce and abandon such a law. There it is a result of a campaign pledge to Kiwi voters, but here the government appears to be taking a two-step approach: first control, then GEG.

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa put the government strategy thus at a media briefing on Tuesday: "We are not forgetting it entirely, we are putting it aside first. We will look at current needs, and we may bring it back, but there is no timeline." The reason for the dropping of the GEG clause is due to the views of the Attorney-General's Chambers, which cited potential constitutional arguments. To be precise, the GEG clause is said to contradict the equality provision of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution.

A two-step approach is fine — though anti-smoking advocates may disagree — a law also needs to be in place to govern vape products. It must be a standalone piece of legislation. Those producing or importing vape products must be held responsible for the substances used in the electronic devices. Such sellers must not be allowed to escape liability for harmful substances they peddle. Now there is nothing regulating them.

Just like cigarettes, vape, too, should come under some kind of regulatory body. The young need to be protected. Vaping starts at a young age. This is a universal vaping trend. Our neighbours are doing it to laudable standards. We must hitch our tobacco laws to that standard. Time is the essence here. Reports are emerging of an increase in respiratory illnesses among the young in Malaysia and elsewhere.

True, there are no studies yet on the long-term effects of vaping, but doctors know there are going to be consequences to vaping. Research conducted in the United States shows that e-cigarette aerosols have known pulmonary toxicity. Already, adolescent vape users are beginning to show an increased rate of chronic bronchitis. It is estimated that some 20,000 Malaysians die of smoking-related diseases.

Granted, there is little data to show many of these are related to vaping. Secondary smoke is equally dangerous, especially to children whose growth it retards. Smokers should not be allowed to harm themselves either, especially when non-smoking taxpayers are forced to foot their healthcare bill.

According to CodeBlue, a healthcare news portal, Malaysia spends RM16 billion a year to treat diseases caused by smoking and vaping. Here is another number. For every RM1 the government receives in tax, it spends RM4 in treating smoking-related diseases. 

It would be suicidal to wait any longer. We missed the boat in governing vaping in 2011. The least we can do now is to rein it in by legislation. To not do so is to allow the situation to be more dangerous than it already is.

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