KUALA LUMPUR, 28th February – The absence of the new Tobacco Bill and Bill 342 Amendment Bill from the King’s Speech to Parliament today signals that the government cannot table these legislations during the current meeting of Dewan Rakyat.
The government’s legislative priorities are usually set out in the King’s Speech prepared by the government. Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s royal speech at the opening of the first meeting of the fifth session of the 14th Parliament today, for example, shed light on the Sexual Harassment Bill 2021.
On health issues, Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah’s royal speech today merely mentioned the existing works of the Ministry of Health (MOH), such as the Covid-19 vaccination, the National Covid-19 Screening Strategy, as well as the National Mental Health Strategic Plan 2020-2025.
The king also mentioned the national roadmap for vaccine development, besides calling for a careful transition to the endemic phase of Covid-19 and urging the public to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin previously said he would table a new Tobacco and Tobacco Control Act at the meeting to replace existing tobacco product control laws under the 1983 Act. on food.
The new law was expected to contain a number of measures and guidelines not only to regulate e-cigarettes and vaping products, but also to enforce what Khairy described as an “end of generation” for smoking in the country to long term.
The new legislation, which also covers vaping and e-cigarettes, means people born after 2005 will never be able to legally buy tobacco products or vape during their lifetime.
Despite overwhelming public support for the ban, according to the results of a recent two-week survey by code blue and the Galen Center for Health and Social Policy, opposition to the ban has also grown, particularly from the tobacco industry.
The Malaysian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Confederation, which includes British American Tobacco (Malaysia) Bhd, JT International Bhd and Philip Morris (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd – three of the country’s largest tobacco companies – had pointed out that plans to ban smoking for the next generation is “untested, unproven and without scientific evidence”, according to The Edge Malaysia weekly.
The trade group also claims that the new law could boost illicit tobacco sales, which currently contributes to an annual loss of RM5 billion in excise duty and tax revenue.
The parliamentarians who spoke code blue previously were also in conflict over the cohort’s smoking ban, indicating that the passage of the bill may not go smoothly.
Permatang MP Pauh Nurul Izzah Anwar and Lembah MP Pantai Fahmi Fadzil, both PKR MPs, expressed openness and support for the policy. Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming and Klang MP Charles Santiago are more reluctant, calling for a closer look at the law and alternatives to an outright ban.
The omission of the Bill to Amend Law 342 – intended to impose tougher penalties on individuals and businesses for Covid-19-related offenses – from the King’s Speech also points to the possibility that the current government will abandon the proposed amendments to the Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control Act 1988 (Act 342) fully.
Despite intense efforts by Khairy to push the bill through the last parliamentary meeting, it was eventually postponed – amid widespread public outrage, including among government MPs – to allow consultation and proper negotiations with legislators and stakeholders through the Dewan Rakyat Special Committee. on Health, Science and Innovation led by Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching, Dr. Kelvin Yii.
Although the meetings have since gone ahead, tougher penalties for Covid SOP breaches now seem unnecessary, with the Omicron coronavirus variant appearing to be under control despite record cases and government plans to reopen international borders.
Dewan Rakyat’s current meeting, which is due to run until March 24, could be the last meeting before the 15th general election is called amid speculation of a snap poll. Dewan Rakyat’s next meeting is only scheduled for July 18.
code blue attempted to reach the office of the Minister of Health for comment.