Ministry in bid to regulate cigarette use among youth

THARANYA ARUMUGAM 

THE Health Ministry will crank up its move to stamp out smoking among Malaysians by regulating electronic cigarettes, vaporisers and shishas.

These devices will be banned for those aged 21 and below, and will be regulated under the new Control of Tobacco and Smoking bill to better control tobacco use, especially among youths.

Health Ministry deputy director-general Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman said the bill, currently being drafted by the ministry, extended the definition of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, vapes, shishas, chewing tobacco and other products.

He said under the proposed bill, the devices would be regulated in the same manner as cigarettes.

The bill, he said, would allow for the control of non-nicotine products, such as nicotine-free liquids used for vaping.

“The use of e-cigarettes and vapes will be prohibited at all ‘No Smoking’ places, while shisha will only be allowed at certain permitted places.

“The legislation will also ban promotion, advertisement and sponsorship of tobacco products.

“The government aims to reduce the accessibility, affordability and attractiveness of tobacco and smoking products, thus preventing youth from developing addiction to such products.

“The cabinet has instructed that the bill be enacted in the next two years,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

Dr Lokman said the bill prohibited the display of tobacco products behind counters and made it illegal to smoke in vehicles with children.

He said that despite this new legislation, the control of products or any preparation of e-liquid containing nicotine would still come under the Poisons Act 1952.

The penalty for those found guilty of breaching the act will be made more severe in the proposed bill than the current provisions in the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004, he said.

Under the current legal provisions, those who commit an offence, such as selling cigarettes to a minor, face a fine of no more than RM10,000 or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both. 

Dr Lokman said the ministry was working with other ministries, including the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry, Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry, Education Ministry, and the International Trade and Industry Ministry in regulating the industry.

Tobacco products are currently regulated under the Food Act 1983.

The ministry had been lobbying for a tobacco control act since 2005, when Malaysia became a party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention for Tobacco Control on Dec 15, 2005.

Malaysia aims to reduce smoking prevalence to 15 per cent or less by 2025, and to achieve a Smoke-free Malaysia (the End Game of Tobacco) by 2045, as stated in the National Strategic Plan for Tobacco Control 2015-2020.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya on Tuesday said the government was considering increasing cigarette prices to RM21.50 a pack from RM17 a pack currently, which is a whopping 26.5 per cent increase, to reduce the number of smokers in Malaysia.

According to the World Health Organisation, raising taxes on tobacco is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use.

It said on average, a 10 per cent price increase on a pack of cigarettes would be expected to reduce demand for cigarettes by about four per cent in high-income countries, and by about eight per cent in low- and middle-income countries.

Children and adolescents, it said, were more sensitive to price increases than adults, allowing price interventions to have a significant impact on this age group.

The Health Ministry had, in the past, taken steps towards deterring smoking, including the recent Control of Tobacco Product (Amendment) Regulations 2017, gazetted on Jan 24.

Under the new regulations, smoking is no longer allowed in public parks, national parks, state parks, campsites, canopy bridges, game courts and playgrounds.