By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
The recent report from the Merdeka Center that the “federal government (unity government) rating presently stands at 41 per cent compared to 54 per cent in December 2022” and “the dissatisfaction towards the federal government presently stands at 48 per cent” can be concerning.
Undoubtedly, one sure factor relates to the issue of delisting of nicotine in the use of liquid and gel vapes going back to April 1; and the many flip-flops in between until very recently.
The trust-deficit it created has been the cause to worry about especially in the context of well-being. This is because the period of exposure to the toxic impact due to the delisted substance drags on almost endlessly, each time resulting in false hope.
Knowing full well that the ultimate outcome is an inevitable health disaster of an epidemic proportion. The latest evidence for this coincided with the first anniversary of the formation of the unity government last week.
This follows the Cabinet decision to decouple the long-awaited Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 and the generational end game (GEG). Could it be just a political ploy, as it mirrors the lack of political consensus on the issue?
Most, if not all health- and people-based organisations, have come out hard on the unfortunate decision – not unlike their protest against the blatant nicotine delisting unilateral action some eight months ago.
In fact, the sense of betrayal that it further caused is very palpable especially among those who have suffered much from among the 18 years and below. Not forgetting their parents and guardians, so too the teachers in schools that have allegedly been turned into ‘nicotine vaping experimental labs’ due to the sheer curiosity induced by the freely available nicotine.
Meaning, the exposure has gone viral, made easier due to lack of control and relevance to various prohibitions and punishments under the law then. Now with the GEG being decoupled, the toxic time period becomes even more protracted. The decoupling may cause the Bill to be re-tabled completely as a new bill for first reading.
What a sheer waste of time and limited resources, and causing avoidable health risk. More so, it translated into a deeper sense of trust-deficit onto the government especially in the realm of drug abuse and misuse!
If this is to be understood as a kind of drug warfare (initiated by the delisting of nicotine), then there seems to be no ‘ceasefire’ in sight. That is, to say the flow of nicotine-vape items remains uninterrupted, in fact gets more rampant, due the many broken promises ending up with GEG being side-stepped by the Cabinet as mentioned above.
The victims are mostly children in the lower socio-economic groups with the males being the most vulnerable. While the number of females from the similar grouping are said to be rising steadily. To this, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of another breed of drug addicts and future generations that is in making!
But it seems to have fallen into oblivion, forgetting that drug addiction and abuse remain the country number one enemy declared for more than fifty years, while the writer was still a student-volunteer, to fight the menace.
The situation has not changed significantly, if not worsened. The WHO warning can therefore be viewed as a potentially failed attempt to reform the dire situation, thanks to the infamous exemption from control under the Poisons Act 1952 by the Health Minister last March 31!
To put the blame on the alleged Attorney-General’s advice that the generational tobacco and vape prohibition is unconstitutional sounds ‘ridiculous’ to say the least, as the issue has been floating around since the previous government.
Suddenly, the Attorney-General Chambers dropped the time bomb, reportedly the GEG – which seeks to ban conventional and electronic cigarettes for anyone born from 2007 throughout their lifetime – contravenes Article 8 of the Federal Constitution that guarantees equality before the law.
Should it not be settled well beforehand, when the new Minister of Health assumes her position rather than adopting the idea wholesale; or later assigned blame to the predecessor. Why only now labelling the issue as lacking a strong foundation?
With such flimsy uncertainties and greater toxic exposure to those below 18 years, which is overdue brought about by the so many unreliable promises, the right thing to do is to go back to the status quo prior to April 1, that is, to immediately relist liquid and gel nicotine so as to ensure that the nation’s health and well-being remain uncompromised!
Otherwise, to quote the Malaysia Council for Tobacco Control chairperson: “This is a huge win for the industry that continues to reap all the benefits from the lack of legislation and controls. Nicotine also will remain unregulated, and perhaps now with no end in sight in terms of tabling a bill, the government can relook at reinstating controls back on this product in order to retain some control.”
Unfortunately, this seems to be the latest in a long series of strategies aimed at weakening any and all tobacco control initiatives, he added. It is now obvious to everyone as to how much the Ministry of Health has been bullied by other players in the effort to stall the Bill from being realised.
Hence, not only is the Merdeka Center assessment spot on, in this issue, it must be duly heeded and put to action at once. – BACALAHMALAYSIA.MY
- The writer is Rector, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM)