What is the country’s record of passing effective legislation vis-a-vis the GEG Bill?

Letter to editor

HEALTH Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa is committed to table amendment to the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023 which also includes the Generational End Game (GEG) Policy that restricts tobacco products to people born after 2007.

From the very beginning of her appointment, the media and anti-smoking groups have been reminding her over and over and over again of the need to get the GEG Bill passed.

Isn’t it odd that despite all the shortcomings in our healthcare appearing and exposed now and during the MCO (movement control order), the Minister is now prioritising the passing of the GEG Bill against other more urgent needs?

A tobacco end game needs to address systems issues to a greater degree than individual behaviour.

The answer is that this choice is not so much of her own but she is probably trying to ride on the coattails of her predecessor – presiding and overseeing the country’s ascension into the record books by being the first country in the world to pass a GEG Bill – something which eluded even countries in the developed world until today despite these countries having talked earlier about introducing such a bill in their respective countries.

Hopefully, the Minister is not trapped by the Malaysia Boleh slogan.

The rush to table the amendment for her probably gives her a sense of achievement and will earn her the title of Malaysia’s first female Health Minister who laid the groundwork and spark for a tobacco-free world’.

Massive investment

With all the economic uncertainty the country is facing today, this is a time when we need to be supported by the government in terms of ease of doing business and not laden with burdensome procedures.

Critical to the success of the GEG Bill – if it is passed – is that a lot of monies needs to be budgeted for the implementation and enforcement of the GEG Bill, eg investment in communication initiatives to explain the policy and the benefits that will accrue to future generations.

Also needed to be addressed are investments for retailer compliance monitoring and enforcement, investments to help those socio-economically disadvantaged people – admittedly there is a demographical disparity in tobacco use in this country – and the largest group of potential smokers coming of age.

Elsewhere, there is also a need for investments to curb the expected increase in illicit trade in normal-strength tobacco and organised crime, additional investments and resources to strengthen the Customs Department for the detection of smuggled tobacco products and the establishment of a monitoring programme to track illicit use as the new policies take effect.

Success rate

With a debt of RM1.5 tril and with a possible cut in the budget for most expenditure for the country, it appears that the country can ill afford to rush through this legislation in the present climate.

Crackdown on illicit tobacco sales

Given this situation, it is highly likely that designated funds – if any – will be limited and with limited funding and a lack of public health services designated by the government for Tobacco-Free Malaysia 2040, the country will not have sufficient resources to reach the 2040 goal.

Waste of resources and catastrophic expenditures are potential economic side effects of the passing of the GEG Bill if the government is not prepared and committed to provide adequate or sufficient funding for its implementation, enforcement and monitoring.

Are there any keys to accountability, improvement, scalability and sustainability of this initiative in the latest draft of the GEG Bill?

If it does not capture many of the processes and outcomes that matter most to people such as competent implementation and enforcement measures and health outcomes, confidence in the GEG Bill will go up in smoke as fast as it is being introduced.

Is the government prepared to guarantee a minimum level of achievable output within a specific time frame if the lawmakers decide to pass through the GEG Bill? Otherwise, all these efforts to-date is wasteful and unethical.

There is probably more going on than we can see or understand with regard to rushing twice – once with her predecessor and now with the present Health Minister pushing through the GEG Bill.

Do not put sharp knives in their hands. If this fails, the ramifications could be worse than what it was intended to do. – Oct 12, 2023

Kuala Lumpur

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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