Before the Covid-19 pandemic, most health-related legislation was regularly passed by Parliament, without too much fanfare or debate, as health was considered apolitical and politicians generally trusted the technocrats in the Ministry of Health. Health.
When the pandemic hit, elected officials from all political parties realized for the first time the need to assess the impact of proposed health laws on their constituents, instead of blindly accepting the advice of technocrats who are not necessarily aware of the realities on the ground.
At a PKR event in Ampang last Friday, the party showed a powerful election campaign video (see from minute 1:14:09) which criticized the handling of Covid-19, depicting immense suffering during lockdowns and the suppression of democracy with the suspension of Parliament. Malaysia’s Covid-19 death rates are among the highest in Asia per capita.
Last December, then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin lobbied for changes to the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342), using a punitive approach and perhaps cruel in managing an outbreak caused by a respiratory virus despite low health literacy in the country. Ismail Sabri Yaakob, then Prime Minister killed later the bill to amend Law 342 in March.
So what do infectious diseases have to do with tobacco control?
While Malaysians are generally in conflict over civil liberties like freedom of speech, which is often seen as ‘political’, depending on who makes controversial comments, the handling of the pandemic appears to have triggered what is known as “apolitical,” or nonpartisan, opposition to public health measures beyond infectious disease outbreaks.
Although some advocates believe that health should be “apolitical” – even if politics is simply the allocation of resources – it was precisely the bipartisan objection to Khairy’s proposed Generational End Game (GEG) that effectively killed the recent effort to push through tobacco control. Smoking and Products Bill 2022.
Khairy and anti-tobacco activists mistakenly believed that no one would oppose the decision to ban the sale and use of tobacco and vaping products for generations born after 2007. After all, who could possibly support smoking and smokers?
However, the disastrous release of the Bill 342 Amendment Bill likely sparked deep reservations among 14th Parliament MPs across the aisle about approving further perceived intrusions into personal life. .
When Khairy did not file the revised tobacco bill for debate on October 6 despite expecting to make it that dayit was clear that the administration of Ismail Sabri and likely backbenchers Umno or Barisan Nasional (BN) did not support the government bill, even if they avoided publicly voicing objections.
As Pakatan Harapan (PH) and other opposition MPs previously spoke expressing their concerns with broad enforcement powers proposed in the bill, constitutional issues, violations of individual liberties, Economic impactand how a generational tobacco ban might workit was incumbent on the government of Ismail Sabri to support and therefore pass the tobacco bill.
PH Youth unveiled a series of health care reform proposals yesterday in its manifesto for the 15th general election, including the formation of a health services commission, but omitted the GEG and tobacco control.
Nor will tobacco and GEG vaping likely appear in BN or Perikatan Nasional election manifestos.
Some politicians have already used the proposed generational smoking ban as a bogeyman in the run-up to national elections, such as Chan Foong Hin, outgoing MP for Kota Kinabaluwho cited the GEG as a reason why people should vote at GE15: “You can’t let those you don’t trust decide your fate.”
As minister and legislator, Khairy was responsible for winning public and political support for a sweeping proposal to ban smoking for future generations in a country where almost half of adult men aged 20 and over smoke.
However, no public meeting has been organized with the general public, including with teenagers and teenagers born from 2007 who cannot vote in GE15. Khairy also failed to share the Tobacco Bill with the 14th Parliament’s Select Parliamentary Committee on Health, Science and Innovation before formally tabling it in the Dewan Rakyat.
While most of the blame can be placed on Khairy’s shoulders, anti-tobacco activists and outspoken doctors were also responsible for GEG’s miscommunication. Instead of addressing genuine concerns about the potential erosion of privacy and civil liberties, they accused all critics of being funded by Big Tobacco.
Pride killed the GEG.
New Zealand was able to come up with a generational smoking ban because its smoking prevalence is only 10.9%almost half of 21.3% for Malaysia. Even then, New Zealand’s proposed bans only target retailers, not smokers.
Khairy’s approach to tobacco control could be seen as dogmatic, punitive and moralistic. The GEG was an attempted shortcut to reduce Malaysia’s smoking rate to 5% by 2040 (a decade behind the 2030 global target).
Whoever forms the government of the day is unlikely to touch the poisoned chalice of the tobacco bill in the next term, or even the next two terms.
Worse still, Khairy’s combined legislative failures to pass the politically problematic tobacco bills and Bill 342 (Amendment) could potentially affect tobacco control as a whole – even if future proposals from the next government exclude the GEG – and public health measures for future pandemics.
The fatal blow is that any future opposition to health policies and legislation perceived to affect people’s personal lives is likely to be non-partisan in nature, making it all the more difficult, if not impossible, to undertake painful but crucial to health care.
This is the unfortunate legacy Khairy left with the GEG.
Boo Su-Lyn is the editor of CodeBlue. She is a libertarian, or classic liberal, who believes in minimal state intervention in the economy and sociopolitical issues.