FORMER health minister Khairy Jamaluddin has raised accusations against two cabinet ministers and what is assumed to be Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, claiming they are obstructing a bill aimed at prohibiting individuals born after 2007 from buying or consuming nicotine products.
On his Instagram, Khairy identified the ministers as Law and Institutional Reform Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said and Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Tiong King Sing. The reference to “the gaffer” is believed to point to Anwar, using British slang for “the boss”.
While official updates from Putrajaya regarding the bill are scarce, health watchdog CodeBlue alleged that the Cabinet has decided to eliminate provisions related to the tobacco and vape ban based on age, known as the generational end-game (GEG) from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023.
CodeBlue reported that Attorney-General (AG) Datuk Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh deemed the GEG provisions “unconstitutional,” citing a violation of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law.
A source told CodeBlue that the AG’s Chambers expressed concerns about having two sets of laws for citizens based on age.
Khairy, the architect of the original bill, criticised the cabinet’s handling of the matter as “absolutely shambolic”.
Moreover, highlighted a shift in the AG’s stance, pointing out that during his tenure, the AGC did not object to the bill.
“You know why? A fierce critic of the GEG is none other than the Law Minister herself. She doesn’t want it passed. Big opponents of GEG in the cabinet are the Law Minister, tourism minister and the gaffer.”
Khairy contends that the GEG is crucial for public health, emphasising the high public spending on treating smoking and vaping-related illnesses compared to the taxes collected from the industry.
Responding to the allegations, Azalina asserted that the AG serves as the legal adviser to the Cabinet and as such, presents legal views during Cabinet meetings. She stressed that all Cabinet members have the prerogative to express their views on any matter, with the cabinet collectively responsible for the decisions made.
Azalina also questioned the identity of “the gaffer” while Tiong, another accused minister previously voiced concerns about punitive measures in the bill, arguing they would disproportionately affect lower-income groups.
Meanwhile, lawyer New Sin Yew argued on X (formerly Twitter) that Article 8 permits discrimination if there is an “intelligible differentia” and if the discrimination was in pursuit of a “legitimate objective”.
“There is an ‘intelligible differentia’ because it clearly identifies a class born before a specific time cannot smoke. Public health is a legitimate objective.” – Nov 15, 2023