WHEN Pakatan Harapan (PH) was in the Opposition in the final parliamentary sitting prior to the dissolution of the Dewan Rakyat to pave way for the 15th General Election (GE15), PKR information chief and Pantai MP Fahmi Fadzil was seemingly against the Generation End Game (GEG) ban.
On Sept 23 last year, Fahmi Fadzil who met retail businesses on the proposed tobacco generational end game (GEG) remarked that the GEG affects human resources, children and women as well as the economy.
Back then, small retailer groups found themselves stranded or kept out of the loop as to how the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 that sought to prohibit tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007 would pan out under former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin.
This was when the Malaysian Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors’ General Association (MSCSPGA), the Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (PRIMAS), the Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (PRESMA) and the Federation of Sundry Groups Merchants Associations Malaysia (FSGMAM) called for a comprehensive consultation, briefing and impact study with retailers before the Dewan Rakyat was due to pass the bill.
However, the bill which was tabled for the first and second readings by Khairy in July and August last year was eventually delayed due to the dissolution of Parliament on Oct 10.
Moreover, the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) on Health, Science, and Innovation chaired by Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen back then had even reached a consensus on several major amendments to be included in the Bill prior to its re-tabling on Oct 6.
The amendments, among others, included removing a proposed clause to make it an offence for those born after Jan 1, 2007 to be in possession of cigarettes or related tobacco products in addition to removing the power for authorities to enter private homes to enforce the proposed law although it would remain an offence for youths born after the date to be caught smoking cigarettes or vaping.
But with Yii who is also the DAP Youth (DAPSY) chief having been appointed as the special adviser to Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa on April 7 with the priority of pushing for health reforms and policies matters, one wonders whether Yii will continue to seek the middle ground by looking into the interest of consumers who will be impacted by the GEG policy or even struggling mom-and-pop stores for the matter.
Health portal CodeBlue expects voting and passage of the tobacco bill to be likely delayed as the Cabinet has decided to have it referred to a parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) after it is tabled in the Dewan Rakyat. The looming uncertainty is that voting on the bill in the Dewan Rakyat could be postponed to the following parliamentary meeting in October.
At the end of the day, the act of wanting to create a healthy next generation and the fight to tighten legal tobacco trade amid a booming underground or illicit trade could pose numerous challenges across the board.
Unless the government has a clear picture of how to implement the tobacco bill effectively, retail businesses will continue to question how prohibitions of tobacco sales to adults aged 18 and older born from 2007 – which are expected to be enforced from 2025 – could be operationalised by retailers as frontliners since the Health Ministry (MOH) will not be able to employing enforcers at every retail outlet.
Above all else, the authorities must be sensitive to the plight of retailers as the sales of legal tobacco products in retail shops comprise 30%t of their total revenue. It must be borne in mind that the GEG will impact revenue of retail shops at a time when the country is preparing for an unprecedented global recession.
Beyond that, it is hoped that the current Health Minister does not repeat the unpleasant legacy of her predecessor by bulldozing and be unwilling to engage stakeholders whose interest will be impacted by implementation of the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023. – June 2, 2023