The Delay of Malaysia’s Tobacco Bill Will Benefit Tobacco Harm Reduction

Malaysia’s Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, has postponed the infamous ‘generational endgame’ anti-smoking bill after considerable pressure from the public and health experts alike. This gives local MPs ample time to make appropriate amendments and reach a consensus.

In 2022, Malaysia’s health minister Khairy Jamaluddin had announced a ban on the sales of cigarettes and safer nicotine alternative products to anyone born in 2005 or beyond. The plan was released at the 150th session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) executive board meeting, where Jamaluddin said the hope is that the legislation is finalized this year and that it would bring about a “generation endgame to smoking.”

In response to this proposal, the local vape industry had highlighted that local authorities should differentiate between tobacco products and safer nicotine alternatives. “The government needs to see that tobacco and vape products are different. There is clear evidence from around the world that vape products are significantly less harmful than tobacco products. This is a fact that the government needs to consider, and the laws cannot be the same for vape products and tobacco products,” said the Malaysia Retail Electronic Cigarette Association (MRECA) president Datuk Adzwan Ab Manas.

Local physicians agreed. The FPMPAM (Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia) criticised the government’s proposed prohibition on the promotion of vape or e-cigarettes as a harm reduction alternative to smoking tobacco. They highlighted that the bill disregards overwhelming scientific data in favour of the benefits of safer nicotine alternatives for tobacco harm reduction (THR). “The Bill seems to have totally disregarded the overwhelming scientific data that THR can work with the proper regulatory framework in place,” said FPMPAM president Dr Steven Chow said in a recent statement.

NZ looks into setting in place a similar bill
Moreover last September, a member of the Malaysian parliamentary delegation visited New Zealand, which is looking to implement a similar generational smoking ban, to understand what policies are required to become smokefree. “New Zealand’s smoking rate is less than half of ours because they’ve regulated adult-only retail access to vaping products. New Zealand actively steers smokers towards safer nicotine products, with vaping an incredibly effective off-ramp to smoking. If Malaysia is to reduce smoking to below five percent by 2040, then we need to regulate, not ban, vaping products,” says Mr Arrifin.

Thankfully, the bill has now been postponed. “This delay now gives MPs time to get the country’s tobacco control strategy right. We strongly believe that vaping should be not part of the generational endgame bill. It would only criminalise vape consumers and retailers,” said Samsul Arrifin President of MOVE (Malaysian Organization of Vape Entities). In line with many public health and tobacco harm reduction experts, MOVE would like vaping and other non-combustible products to be regulated different than their combustible and deadlier counterparts.