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Nipping It In The Bud: Proposed Smoking Ban And Its Effects On B40 Community

If Malaysia votes yes to the new proposed ban, it will be one of the first countries in the world to enact tobacco generational endgame legislation, following New Zealand.

The Tobacco and Smoking Products Bill 2022, more famously known as the generational endgame to smoking, aims to stop selling cigarettes and any related smoking product by criminalising it to those born in Jan 2007 and onwards to reduce the number of smokers in Malaysia[1]

One of the reasons the bill came forward and was proposed was to diminish the risks of getting cancer and other various health problems for smokers and their loved ones[2].

Source: Malay Mail/Devan Manuel

The ban that includes tobacco products and electronic vapourisers, would not only help with minimising exposure to secondhand smoking but also reduce tobacco-related deaths[3]. Tobacco consumption is the leading cause of cancer in Malaysia, contributing to 22% of deaths with an estimated cost of  RM 132.7 million used to treat lung cancer due to smoking[4].

We hope to reduce the number of new smokers while focusing on the cost of treatment of existing patients. –  Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar, Malaysia’s Health Minister[4]

Taking into account that the smoking ban bill affects the people born after Jan 2007, it also affects the youth as there were reports showing there is a high smoking prevalence among the group.

According to the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, 11.6% of them were cigarette smokers, 7.5% were e-cigarette users and 15.6% were teenagers aged between 15-19 who were utilising tobacco products. The same report showed approximately 4.8 million (21.3%) Malaysians aged 15 and above smoked[5].

The goal of the smoking ban, in the long run, is to ameliorate the health of the citizens, especially among the B40 community as it has been recorded that their smoking prevalence is the highest.

What Does The Smoking Ban Call for?

The smoking bill proposed by the Ministry of Health aims to:

  • Protect the younger generation from picking up and developing an addiction to tobacco products.
  • Intending to lessen the number of smokers to below 5% by 2040[6].
  • Reduce the number of deaths happening due to secondhand smoking and illnesses.

In the case of offenders that are in the possession of any of the concerned products:

  • A fine will be raised against the offenders and allows for enforcement officers to act without a warrant and open up baggage/containers to examine tobacco products and smoking devices[6].
  • The bill also imposes a RM 500 fine and community services if caught in the act of purchasing or possessing cigarettes and vape products under the Tobacco and Smoking Products Control Bill[5].

Malaysia can actually save up to 1.3 billion if this bill passes, as with more than 4 million smokers, they can be spending up to RM7.5 billion on their healthcare by 2025[7].

How B40 Communities Would Be Affected By Smoking Ban?

Dr Helmy Haja Mydin, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s technical advisor, mentioned smoking is most prevalent amongst the B40s communities[8]. In Malaysia, the highest percentage of smokers comes from B40, with a household income of RM 4,850 or less[9].

Source: CodeBlue

Mental health problems are more prevalent among individuals in lower-income groups who face more financial problems, discrimination and precarious living conditions, thus causing stress which encourages smoking as a form of relief. – Findings from The Social & Economic Research Initiative (Seri)[8]

Findings by the Social & Economic Research Initiated (Seri) noted that smoking is the highest and most prevalent among the bottom 40% (B40) compared to the other income earners. The findings showed the bottom 40% stood at 60%, whereas the middle 40% (M40) had 31% and the 5% among the top 20% (T20)[8].

The burden on health caused by the use of commercial tobacco products is unfairly borne by those with low socioeconomic status. – Findings from The Social & Economic Research Initiative (Seri)[8]

What Do The Rakyat Think About The Ban?

In Gemas, Negeri Sembilan, a group of villagers were against the proposal to ban smoking. Instead, they believe the focus should be set on educating the youth on why they should avoid it[9].

In the case of Zali, who is a rubber tapper, he stated he believes banning smoking and vaping wouldn’t make people stop or forget about such activities[9].

Right now, there’s no way that villagers can buy cigarettes at stores. Only the rich can afford to do that. Most people here buy cigarettes that are smuggled in. They bring in cheap cigarettes from Thailand – Zali, 30, rubber tapper[9]

He also estimated a single box of illicit cigarettes costs around RM 7 and RM10. Due to the steep price, the villagers spend around RM150 per month on cigarettes[9].

On the other hand, tobacco industry player, Khoo Bee Leng, stated the tobacco generational endgame was “pointless”, as the government already failed to prevent teenagers from smoking. The law would potentially increase the opportunity for more illicit cigarettes to make their way through, which is already an issue that is very much present in Malaysia[10].

This bill will not meet its objective. Instead, it’s going to keep pushing consumers to the black market. – Khoo Bee Leng, JT International Bhd general manager[10]

Concerns Amid Proposed Bill

Several lawmakers are opposing the proposed bill and are voicing their concerns about how it would be implemented.

Anwar Ibrahim, President of the People’s Justice Party, said he would only vote for the tobacco bill if the bill intended to include  “mechanisms for effective implementation”[5].

There are many issues not resolved. You have to revise it; you don’t bulldoze legislation that has a massive impact – rural, Orang Asli – you have to find them, you have to negotiate with them too. – Anwar Ibrahim, President of the People’s Justice Party (PKR)[5]

In addition, although some expressed their support for the bill, it didn’t expel the several concerns they had.

Even though I support this bill, the concern raised in this hall needs to be taken into account. – Mahathir Mohamad, Former Prime Minister[11]

Due to the concerns, the reinforcement of it, and its implementation, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin opted to refer the bill to the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for a review, which resulted in the bill’s passage being postponed until November this year[12].

Source: New Straits Time/BERNAMA

To ensure that the Act is not seen as punitive, the offences committed by the GEG group are only set a maximum fine of RM500 or community services. This group will be first offered compounds based on the offences committed. – Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s Health Minister[13]

As of right now, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin postponed the implementation of the general proposal on smoking to 2025, starting with the 2007 generation and onward, which marks a two-year delay to the initial plans due to the uncertain support from MPs[14].

Regardless of the postponement of the smoking bill, the proposed enactment is considerably a step in the right direction to tackle the prevalence rate of smokers in Malaysia. Even so, one of the main concerns includes the procurement of cigarettes and vape from illegal markets which could only exacerbate the issue. Education to stop teenagers from taking their first cigarette or vape is just as crucial to curbing smoking. 

Explore Our Sources:

  1. The Star. (2022). ‘Say yes to anti-smoking law’. Link.
  2. R. S. Bedi. (2022). Malaysia’s smoking ban proposal aims to reduce cancer risk, but the Bill divides opinion. Channel News Asia. Link.
  3. Channel News Asia. (2022). Malaysia to introduce law to ban smoking for people born after 2005: Khairy. (2022). Link.
  4. A. Mardhiah. (2022). Smoking is the leading cause for cancer in Malaysia. The Malaysian Reserve. Link.
  5. The Star. (2022). What’s at stake with the generational endgame. Link.
  6. Free Malaysia Today. (2022). Will the Generational End Game take place? Link.
  7. A. Fadhlullah Adnan. (2022). Generasi Penamat dan cabaran penyeludupan rokok. Utusan Malaysia. Link.
  8. Codeblue. (2022). Generational Smoking Ban Protects B40 Group: Think Tank. Link.
  9. N. Hasliza Mohd Salleh. (2022). Booming illicit trade casts pall on hopes to ban smoking, even with tougher laws. Malaysia Now. Link.
  10. F. Asyraf. (2022). Generational endgame law pointless, says tobacco industry player. Free Malaysia Today. Link.
  11. H. Azmi. (2022).  Malaysia redraws anti-smoking bill amid concerns over loss of rights. This Week In Asia. Link.
  12. R. Anand. (2022). Malaysia defers vote on landmark anti-smoking Bill following concerns. Link.
  13. The Sun Daily. (2022). MOH agrees to reduce fine to RM500 in Tobacco and smoking products control bill. Link.
  14. Codeblue. (2022). Khairy Delays Proposed Smoking Ban To 2007 Generation As MPs Dither. Link.

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