The GEG Bill: Boon or Bane?

M Reza Hassan
01 Sep 2022 04:30pm
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SHAH ALAM - The Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022, widely known as the Generation End Game (GEG) Bill, seeks to prevent an entire generation from consuming all tobacco products.

While it is undeniable that the GEG Bill will render positive environmental effects and address

health concerns, there is a glaring flaw in the GEG Bill which runs counter to two constitutional

guarantees for the rakyat in the country - Article 5 (Liberty of the Person) and Article 8


Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution reads: “no person shall be deprived of their life or

personal liberty save in accordance with law”.

From here, Article 5 can be broken down into three separate parts – (i) No person shall be deprived of his life; (ii) No person shall be deprived of his personal liberty; and (iii) A person can be deprived of his life and liberty according to a procedure established by law.

At first glance, the right to life takes on a literal meaning, i.e., the right to exist. However, the
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Court of Appeal in Tan Tek Seng v Suruhanjaya Perkhidmatan Pendidikan & Anor [1996]

1 MLJ 261 have taken a liberal interpretation of life. Gopal Sri Ram JCA (as he then was) ruled

as follows:

“I have reached the conclusion that the expression 'life' appearing in art 5(1) does not refer to mere existence. It incorporates all those facets that are an integral part of life itself and those matters which go to form the quality of life.

Of these are the right to seek and be engaged in lawful and gainful employment and to receive those benefits that our society has to offer to its members. It includes the right to live in a reasonably healthy and pollution-free environment.”

Nonetheless, the above interpretation begs the following questions- Does this right to life cover

the right to health? And if so, to what extent can Parliament legitimately restrict the liberties of

its citizens in order to serve the common good?

As noted by Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi in his article entitled “No human right to smoke and vape” dated 8.8.2022, in gist, there is no human right to smoke or vape due to the harm it causes to the smoker and to others through second-hand smoke.

Respectfully, the author believes that even so, it is plausible to conclude that the GEG Bill

contravenes Article 5. Since smoking and/or vaping is a personal act done onto the body by an

individual- a person's right to self-determination is violated by Parliament's enforced restriction, irrespective of whether it benefits society. As such, it is unconstitutional.

In Sivarasa Rasiah v Badan Peguam Malaysia & Anor [2010] 2 MLJ 333, the Federal Court

held that “... 'in accordance with law' in art 5(1) refers to a law that is fair and just and not merely any enacted law however arbitrary or unjust it may be.

The question whether an enacted law is arbitrary must be decided upon settled principles that govern the right in Parliament to pass discriminatory laws. So long as the law does not produce any unfair discrimination it must be upheld.”.

In other words, Parliament may enact laws that contravene fundamental liberties, provided that the law does not result in unfair discrimination. Clearly, this principle has not been applied in the drafting of the GEG Bill.

It is here that a discussion of Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution becomes necessary. Article

8(1) reads: “everyone is equal before the law and is guaranteed equal legal protection”.

Meanwhile, based on its preamble, the GEG Bill is aimed to be an Act that provides for the

registration of tobacco products, smoking substance or substitute tobacco products, the control of

advertisement, promotion and sponsorship, sale and purchase of tobacco products, smoking

substance, substitute tobacco product or smoking device, and the prohibition of smoking of

tobacco product or substitute tobacco product and the prohibition of the use of the smoking

device, by any person that was born in 2007 onwards and for related matters.

From the wording of the preamble itself, it is clear that if the GEG Bill becomes law, individuals

born on or after January 1, 2007, will be subjected to discrimination solely on the basis of their

birth dates.

The existence of such a law would then split people into categories- granting significantly more rights to older adults than to younger adults.

What distinguishes an older individual by one year? At the absolute least, it is pertinent that the opinion of the targeted group is obtained.

As the power to enact laws lies in the hands of Parliament, it is submitted that such power must be exercised properly. Compelling a specific generation of individuals to abide by such a prohibition runs contrary to the precept that was mentioned earlier.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in the Parliamentary Debate Session on 2.8.2022 said that

the restriction imposed on those who are born on or after 2007 in the GEG Bill meets the

intelligible differentia requirement and is therefore constitutional.

Respectfully, in Datuk Haji Harun bin Haji Idris v Public Prosecutor [1977] 2 MLJ 155, the Federal Court ruled as follows:

“Article 8(1) permits reasonable classification is founded on intelligible differentia having a

rational relation or nexus with the policy or object sought to be achieved by the statute or

the statutory provision in question”

The keynote here is “has rational relation on nexus with the policy object that is sought to be

achieved”. That said, in order to pass the test of permissible classification as ruled in the aforementioned case, two conditions must be fulfilled, namely- (i) that the classification must be

founded on an intelligible differentia that distinguishes persons or things that are grouped

together from others left out of the group and (ii) that that differentia must have a rational

relation to the object sought to be achieved by the statute in question.

What is necessary is that there must be a nexus between the basis of classification and the object of the Act (in this case, the GEG Bill) under consideration. However, it is our submission that this was not the case here.

The GEG Bill has no precedence or evidence of its effectiveness. This may be seen in nations

like Singapore and Denmark, which considered enacting legislation similar to the GEG Bill but

ultimately decided against it after conducting a comprehensive appraisal.

If this Bill passes, there is a high probability that it will be subjected to judicial review in the near future.

Aside from that, there is also the prospect of providing room for black-market cigarettes or

vaping items, which might lead to the establishment of criminal syndicates and, as a result, the

feeding of corruption.

As pointed out by the former Minister of Science, Technology, and

Innovation of Malaysia, Yeo Bee Yin, some aspects of the GEG Bill appear quite high-handed

and need a review: “...with a much higher issue of illicit cigarettes in Malaysia coupled with weaker enforcement capabilities, an earlier start date for the generation ban, and the inclusion of vapes in the ban might spell failure for the GEG.”

It is proposed that GEG Bill be subjected to a comprehensive review by the Parliamentary

Special Select Committee (PSSC).

This is to ensure that the provisions in the GEG Bill will not impair the fundamental rights of the rakyat as well as to address concerns raised by members of Parliament regarding issues relating to the arbitrary powers given to enforcement officers under sections 26, 30, 31 and 34 of the GEG Bill. Further consultations with constitutional experts as well as representatives of the public is of crucial importance to prevent any setback once the GEG Bill becomes law.

The greatest concern is that the GEG Bill would have an adverse effect on our youth which would encourage them to experiment with these tobacco products. This is evident with the

existence of current laws that provide for harsh punishments on drugs, which has failed to stem

the menace.

The author, therefore, submits that further scrutiny should be made before the Bill is tabled for its

second reading this October. Given that its implementation of GEG will only take effect from

2025 onwards, there is no reason for Parliament to rush the GEG Bill.

In fact, more time should be given for the GEG Bill to be thoroughly reviewed as the implementation would not only affect our youth, but also the country as a whole by setting a dangerous precedent for discriminatory laws to be bulldozed through Parliament without proper studies.

Datuk M Reza Hassan of Messrs. Raja Riza & Associates is a senior advocate and solicitor with over 30 years of legal practice. The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sinar Daily.