Letter to editor
IN April, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa announced that her ministry has re-named the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill or Generational End Game (GEG) Bill to Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023 and committed to table it in the Dewan Rakyat, possibly in June 2023.
Sounds like same but different with only the title changed.
It is a fact that the proposed GEG is controversial and the bill as a whole has also received a lot of negative feedback from MPs with a few of them requesting that a few provisions be reviewed. A mere change of title won’t work to diffuse the negativity surrounding the Bill.
After all, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has also said it is too drastic to ban the products and instructed the Health Minister to discuss with these MPs to review the proposal again for the purpose of tabling the Bill in May/June 2023.
Unfortunately for the public, as with the previous minister, the present minister, too, did not disclose to the public the mechanism for the implementation and enforcement of the GEG or whether there were sufficient consultations and discussions with the MPs, the public, the businesses and NGOs (non-governmental organisations).
Whether the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) previously did a review and agreed or amended the implementation and enforcement mechanism was also not made known publicly.
What is certain is that there will be a proposal to ban anyone born after a certain year from smoking and vaping in the Bill.
Transparency is best policy
In pushing for the GEG Bill to be passed by the current Health Minister – being a first-time minister – Dr Zaliha should take heed that for the GEG to be an effective public policy, the implementation and enforcement of the law must be diffused to the public, to business establishments, and to respective vendors.
She has to be transparent about the plan and how the policy is intended to be implemented.
Without a strong implementation and enforcement mechanism the policy merely represents a mere symbolic statement on a paper about the government’s desire to control smoking that is dependent on people’s goodwill for success.
Failure to address the available infrastructure and resources – especially constraints – can result in delays in enforcing the law and cause confusion on the parts of the business and parties affected by this legislation.
Do not take potential inadequacies lightly. Resources, if inadequately addressed and acknowledged from the onset, could result in enforcement officers not taking any proactive initiatives to enforce the revised GEG but rather rely on systems that are exclusively complaint driven.
Like the smoking ban in eateries enforced on Jan 1, 2019, a survey by Berita Harian in 2020 found that strict enforcement was only done at the beginning of the policy implementation but slackened post-first quarter.
And how will this GEG policy be effective at all if enforcement cannot even be consistent in stopping people from smoking in eateries? Such concomitant limitations in the enforcement could then render the policy more of a symbolic statement of intention to control smoking.
A study titled “A Smoke-Free Malaysia” in July 2022 undertaken by Datametrics Research and Information Research Centre (DARE) revealed that 83% of Malaysians think the illegal cigarette trade will increase exponentially with the ban on the sale of cigarettes to those born after 2007.
The study also estimated that the GEG bill if legislated, is expected to see illicit trade increase from 58.4% as of March 2022 to 61.7% or RM8.7 bil.
Inflow of illicit products
Already, the government is in a constant battle against the illicit trade for cigarettes, costing the government billions annually in lost tax revenue.
The move to introduce the GEG will most likely boost the appeal for these illegal products, fuelling the illicit trade further with syndicates benefiting the most as illicit activities fund criminal activities.
Thus, to ensure maximum success from this legislation, inputs are required from the Finance Ministry to ensure collaboration and strict enforcement by the Customs Department to curb illicit cigarettes from being brought in.
No point in legislating while a backdoor is left open for illicit cigarettes to be brought in and sold to the youngster illegally.
Do not let the GEG bill camouflage the failure of the government in curbing illicit cigarettes from flooding into the country which has been on-going increasingly for the past few decades.
It all goes back to the mechanism for the implementation of enforcement. If there are loopholes within the mechanism, any policy is only symbolic but flawed.
The legislation – no matter how significant it is – will fail to address the issue it was meant to if the country continues to see people using unregulated products and lose substantial revenue from the taxes.
It would be wise for the Health Ministry to take a more cautious approach and to clearly define its target rather than pushing through targets which may look good on paper but are not practical.
A bill must not just look nice on paper but need to be designed with robust execution to get the desired outcome. – May 22, 2023
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Pic credit: Maszlee Malik’s Twitter