Malaysia defers vote on landmark anti-smoking Bill following concerns


The Malaysian government on Tuesday (Aug 2) deferred a highly anticipated vote on a landmark Bill that aimed to ban smoking for an entire generation of adults, following concerns regarding some of its clauses.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill, which has been dubbed as the generational endgame Bill, would have become the first such law in the world should it be passed by Parliament as scheduled on Tuesday.

However, concerns over its constitutional reach, enforcement and implementation have resulted in Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin choosing to refer the Bill to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for a review, which could now push the Bill’s passage to November this year.

The Bill, described by Khairy as a “game changer”, aimed to ban smoking for anyone born from 2007 onward, closely mirroring a similar legislation by New Zealand, which is set to ban smoking for anyone born from 2009 onward.

However, the Malaysian Bill’s reach is wider as the ban includes electronic smoking products such as vape.

Malaysian lawmakers have generally been supportive of the spirit of the legislation, but have voiced concerns about how it will be implemented, and also its enforcement.

MPs from both sides of the political divide expressed their concerns when the Bill was presented by Khairy for a second reading on Monday.

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim wrote to Speaker Azhar Azizan Harun to have the Bill referred to a bipartisan PSSC, while a similar call was made by the Sabah-based Parti Warisan’s chief Shafie Apdal, another opposition MP.

The Bill needs only a simple majority to gain parliamentary passage with the government holding a slim six-seat majority in the Lower House.

However, some of the concerns were seemingly shared by government lawmakers as well.

Khairy’s party colleague from Umno, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz, said that the Bill could impede the personal liberty and freedom of choice of young adults.

Under the Act, all tobacco and electronic smoking products have to be registered with the ministry, while selling the products to anyone born from 2007 onward is a punishable offense.

However, possession of the smoking items is not a punishable act. The proposed law will have a two-year window for enforcement, meaning it will kick in only in 2025, when those born in 2007 will turn 18 years old, which is the legal smoking age in Malaysia.

The PSSC will have one month to review the Bill and provide a list of suggested improvements. It will have 13 members; seven from the government and six from the opposition. Khairy will chair the committee.

The PSSC can take more time to come up with amendments, but it must do so no later than the first day of the next Parliament session at the end of October.

Before being referred to the PSSC, the Bill had already passed first and second reading stages, with only the final and committee stage debate left to be completed.

The PSSC will have three scopes of review: reviewing the enforcement under the proposed Bill, reviewing penalties for offences, and also addressing any concerns raised in debates by MPs thus far.



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