What next after GEG? Ban on sugar, fatty food, flights to curb danger, Wan Saiful questions

22 Aug 2023 06:18pm
Wan Saiful says there should be proper engagement with stakeholders before a blanket ban is implemented
Wan Saiful says there should be proper engagement with stakeholders before a blanket ban is implemented

KUALA LUMPUR - As Putrajaya pursues its controversial move to ban cigarettes for those born from 2007, a Bersatu leader has questioned Putrajaya if it will also ban flights, sugar and fatty food as it poses danger to health.

Former information chief Wan Saiful Wan Jan said sugar poses significant health problems and flights carry inherent risks, even potentially leading to fatalities.

"So is the government going to take an easy way out to ban these products too. What next? Karaoke centres because there is a possibility of close proximity," he said.

Wan Saiful said this during a discussion on the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, also known as the Generational Endgame (GEG) Bill, which is currently under review by the parliamentary select committee (PSC) on health

He said such short-sighted approach of blanket ban on cigarettes would not yield results as it would push youths underground, making matters worse as it will be hard to curb illicit markets.

"Issues like this should not be touched this way. There must be stakeholder engagement on how we could tackle this," he said, adding that it was crucial to empower the public with knowledge.

He said as for secondary smokers issue, the government could empower people to stop people from smoking as inhaling secondary smoke was unhealthy.

"My fear is we are moving towards allowing the government to take over our choices of freedom," he said.
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The Task Gelugor MP further said from an economic and policy perspective, it would result in a failure as such a move could worsen Malaysia's contraband cigarette issue, which currently stands at 55 to 60 per cent.

"Our contraband issue is already high between 55 to 60 per cent. Won't this move make it worse?," he questioned.

Furthermore, he said Malaysia still suffers from weak enforcement and "by right we should enforce what we have now and do it properly."

"I am not against the government nudging citizens in a certain direction. Nudge them but with knowledge.

"Lifestyle is not about regulating. If we start with GEG, people will start looking for substitutes underground which will cost more in terms of medical bills," he added.

Wan Saiful further urged the government to focus on bigger issues at hand such as tackling cost of living, putting in place political financial act and good governance.

Economist Benedict Weerasena of Bait Al-Amanah said a study carried out in May 2021 showed 90 per cent of cigarettes in Sabah and Sarawak were part of contraband.

"It was a stringent survey as cigarette butts were collected from trash bins to get the real issue on the ground.

Furthermore, he said unlike New Zealand where it is being made into law, Malaysia grapples with contraband issues and will only push more youths to be illicit cigarettes.

He further said the total enforcement needed to curb GEG would be around RM303 mil per annum and retailers will need to allocate additional time on consumers as they would need to show their identity cards.

"At the end of the day, what is crucial is to make people understand the why behind the what so that youths do not turn rebillious and could make a wise decision not to smoke," he said, adding the move will yield better results than a blanket ban.

Newly elected Taman Medan state assemblyman Dr Afif Bahardin says most of the low income group in his area smoke contraband cigarettes openly to reduce cost.

Due to that, he said the end game will only make matters worst for the authorities to enforce the policy.

Citing an example from Penang Smoke Free Zone which was implemented to protect secondary smokers, he said the same enforcement officers were also used for dengue checks, among other raids.

Due to that, it remained a failure. "This is the challenge with the current end game bill," he said.

Former deputy rural development minister Sivarasa Rasiah said the court looks at fundamental rights of an individual.

"Usually it is on right to life, discrimination, among others.

"The court will gauge if there is discrimination as if the law is passed 17 year old can smoke but not 16 year olds," he said, adding that the government also need to consider the loss of income to coffee shop owners, among other stakeholders.

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