Many argue that the smoking Generational Endgame policy might create more problems than it solves.
Imagine you’re out chillin’ with friends. You’re all laughing and having a good time, when suddenly, one of your mates pulls out a vape and starts puffing away.
Immediately, the laughter stops, and everyone starts giving them the dreaded look of disapproval before one person scoffs, “You know that that’s bad for you right?”.
Your friend, feeling embarrassed and a lil’ annoyed, puts his vape away and sighed, “I know la! I’m trying to quit guys. It’s my right and my choice, what?”.
Smoking has been a hot topic for Malaysians in recent years. And since the government announced that they were going to ban the use and sale of anything smoking-related — including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, shisha, e-cigs and vapes — to people born after 2007 with hopes of stopping future generations from picking up the habit, many have argued that a prohibitory Generational Endgame (GEG) policy might create more problems than it solves.
More than 1 million Malaysians have already petitioned and agreed that the GEG should be further studied to take into account how making it illegal for future generations to smoke, while the older generation can do so freely, might potentially be a bad idea.
It’s a freedom problem
One of the main arguments against the GEG is that it violates the rights and freedoms of Malaysians to make their own choices. Though it is considered unhealthy, smoking is still a legal activity that the nation’s adults can choose to engage in, or not.
Former Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Zaki Tun Azmi proposed that we should consider the legal, constitutional and criminal implications of such prohibitory laws, stating that “one simply cannot turn a blind eye to the inextricable legal perils it presents.”
The barrister explained that the GEG may ultimately result in discrimination towards certain groups of people. In an op-ed published by New Straits Times, he noted that the Federal Constitution promises each citizen fair and equal treatment under the law and that depriving a generation of consenting adults from exercising their civil liberty, while others are free to do as they wish, is rather unfair.
Allow me to illustrate this point further with a scenario in the near future: A group of colleagues, all of whom are of legal age, are lighting up during their cigarette break. Despite being in the same location and smoking cigarettes, only one of them is consuming a banned product because he was born in 2007 and one wonders where and how did that person purchase it.Former Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Zaki Tun Azmi via New Straits Times.
He also cautioned that such prohibitory laws may be impossible to enforce and could result in the rise of criminal activities accross the country.
For many years, we have had issues with abuse of enforcement powers and having a policy ban such as the GEG will create further opportunities for corruption. Using legislation to ban smoking entirely amongst future generations will lead to the black market and illicit tobacco sale with massive challenges of enforceability.Former Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Zaki Tun Azmi via New Straits Times.
Tun Zaki advised that Malaysia should instead follow in the footsteps of countries like Japan, the UK and New Zealand where harm-reduction strategies that provide the public with less harmful alternatives to cigarettes as a more humanising approach towards a smoke-free society.
Policymakers need to bite the bullet and embrace new technology in nicotine delivery to wean society off harmful cigarettes. The harm reduction approach is not contradictory to the endgame legislation; it is the much-needed stop-gap measure to phase out cigarettes from future generations.Former Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Zaki Tun Azmi via New Straits Times.
It is prohibitive and punitive to smokers
Being punitive by preventing smokers from accessing less harmful alternatives to help them kick the habit could also be dangerous to the public’s health and well-being.
The Addiction Medicine Association Malaysia (AMAM) President Dr Steven Chow and the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) President Dr Shanmuganathan Ganesan were quoted as saying that authorities should focus on ways to support smokers to quit their addiction instead of punishing them for their habits.
In our experience with engaging with smokers, we have learnt that many want to quit, but do not have the right support or tools to aid their journey. We are also cognizant of the fact that smokers who are not ready to quit or insistent on a cigarette will find access to the products they need by any means necessary.AMAM President Dr Steven Chow and FPMPAM President Dr Shanmuganathan Ganesan via CodeBlue
Arguing that prohibition-focused policies would only drive people to look for back channels and the further consumption of unregulated (and possibly even more dangerous) products, the doctors call for policymakers to accept the science and look into how harm-reduction strategies could benefit Malaysia in its fight against the epidemic of smoking.
Read More: 42% Quit Smoking Using Vape In Malaysia
There are many credible studies that have highlighted the science behind harm reduction. Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians are two key reports that have shared overwhelming scientific data that harm reduction efforts can work with a proper regulatory framework in place. The field of tobacco harm reduction is in urgent need of research and a regulatory framework, particularly in Malaysia, and we must take the time to explore this option.AMAM President Dr Steven Chow and FPMPAM President Dr Shanmuganathan Ganesan via CodeBlue
It’s bad for business
Smoking is big business. The tobacco industry is estimated to contribute around 0.2% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and account for about 2% of the country’s tax revenue. Meanwhile, the vape industry is valued to be worth around RM2.27 billion and employs more than 15,000 people. And in contrast to this, the country’s illicit cigarette trade is gauged to be worth more than RM5 billion, or nearly 3% of the country’s tax receipts.
Being at the forefront of this industry, those who man the storefronts express their concern that the GEG’s effective ban on the sale of smoking products could affect their livelihoods and the nation’s overall economy.
“We do not advocate smoking but from a business perspective, the product has demand and it provides us with a steady flow of income which covers parts of our daily operational costs. This ban on sales of cigarettes and vape will eventually take this away from our revenue stream.” said the Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants Associations of Malaysia (FSGMAM) President Hong Chee Meng, who laments how the government was quick to make decisions without consulting retailers.
Chee Meng added that the lack of enforcement for the black market trade of smoking products would only result in them “easily dominating the market” and force local and law-abiding retailers to go out of business.
With those arguments in mind, authorities should consider adopting more balanced and reasonable measures such as providing better healthcare education and supporting alternative ways to support smokers to quit.
So where do you stand on the subject?
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