Letter to Editor
DURING the tabling of Budget 2023 on Feb 24, Prime Minister-cum-Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim announced that his administration is going ahead with the Generational End Game (GEG) initiative.
GEG was first conceived by the former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin. The policy sought to ban the sale of cigarettes and vaping products to those born after 2007. The proposal was modelled after New Zealand which banned the sale of cigarettes (but not vaping devices) to those born after 2009.
In theory, GEG is a good move and PM must be commended for sticking with a sound policy from the previous administration. By restricting the sale of cigarettes to the young, the government is helping to avert major respiratory-related issues among them in the future. This in turn helps the country save huge sums on medical bills.
But considering Malaysia is notorious for poor implementation of well-intended policies, there’s a need to exercise caution on an initiative as ambitious as GEG. For one, the government announced in Budget 2023 that liquids containing nicotine would start to be taxed.
In other words, such products will be regulated. That being the case, laws like the Poisons Act must be amended to authorise non-medical parties to sell nicotine, which is currently listed as a Group C poison and can only be sold by registered pharmacists and doctors.
The Food Act 1983 also needs to be looked at as the law currently only covers conventional cigarettes and tobacco products.
Amending such laws takes time, and the government needs to ensure that the legislative and regulatory framework are in place to ensure GEG is implemented systematically. There is no need to rush into something that has such far-reaching implications.
Another aspect that the government needs to consider is the use of e-cigarettes like vaping and heated tobacco products as a form of harm reduction.
We all know that cigarettes are harmful and contain carcinogens. Kicking the habit, especially among long-time smokers, is not as simple as flipping a switch. One of the most realistic and effective ways of doing so is through harm reduction. This is not an “either-or” choice.
For example, The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journal, in a finding “Tobacco control: getting to the finish line” published in May last year, reported that tobacco control is not working in most of the world.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said that heated tobacco aerosols “have lower toxicity and do not create new hazards compared to conventional cigarette smoke“
At the end of the day, GEG is a good policy, and I’m glad the current government has chosen to retain it.
However, we should not spoil it with poor implementation and rushing into implementing it is a sure way to derail a well-intentioned plan. — March 3, 2023
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main photo credit: IndiaFillings