NST Leader: Anti-smoking law

THE anti-smoking law is finally here. Or is almost here, we should say. Gazetted in February, the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Act 2024 is waiting for regulations, a.k.a. biting power, to be approved.

Be that as it may, we have Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad's assurance that it will be enforced this year. Critics will say, and rightly so, that the law has taken far too long to be passed by Parliament. Long enough for our lawmakers to hear three health ministers push their versions of the law in the august house.

Under the first of the three ministers, a bill with the robustness of ending the generational smoking game for those born after Jan 1, 2007, began its parliamentary passage.  But the Attorney-General's Chambers  — the government's lawyers, if you like — thought the generational endgame element of the bill to be unconstitutional as it treated different age groups differently.

Sadly, that was the end of the endgame. But as prominent lawyers had pointed out then, this legal view of the bill was contestable. The generational endgame, they argued, should have been allowed to go through and, if contested, let the courts decide its constitutionality.

Now it is water under the bridge and we have to make do with what we have. 

Hopefully, enforcement will save our minors. We must not allow our minors to be part of the 27,200 Malaysians who die every year as a result of diseases related to smoking. Herein lies a challenge.

Malaysia is rich in laws — many of them come with ferocious bites — but poor enforcement makes them as bad as the toothless ones. Consider existing anti-smoking regulations. No smoking in eateries, says one such regulation.

The very same regulation requires restaurateurs to put up "No Smoking" signages on their premises. A failure to do so comes with a maximum fine of RM3,000 or six months' jail. Should restaurateurs fail to stop customers from smoking in undesignated areas, they will face a heftier fine of RM5,000 or six months' jail.

As for the smokers, it is a fine of up to RM10,000 or up to two years' jail. How many eateries or smokers have been fined, let alone jailed? Visit any eatery in town and you will not fail to see smokers puffing away in smoke-free areas, some even smoking under the "No Smoking" signage.

Audacity of such a nature points to one thing: that enforcement is as rare as a hen's teeth. Our "No Smoking" signage has become a plastic lie. 

Will this anti-smoking law be enforced any differently? They better be if we are to save our children. Granted, enforcement is the last stop before a social problem such as smoking or vaping becomes a moral panic. An early sign is when schoolchildren take to social media to wax lyrical about this or that flavour.

The kids are already doing it. Ideally, home is where the bad habit could have been stopped from taking root. Survey data shows this didn't happen.

In 2017, only 10 per cent of our teenagers vaped but in 2022, this went up to 15 per cent. Educating children about the harms of smoking and vaping is a must. But when we do a bad job of this, then robust enforcement is a must.

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