Malaysian Health Minister Says Two Million Smoke-Related Deaths Could be Avoided
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin revealed that the ministry projected that it would cost the government RM8.8 billion to treat three major smoking-related diseases by 2030, and that two million deaths could be avoided in less than 20 years, if the right tobacco regulations are passed.
“The ministry estimates that we can prevent two million deaths by 2040 if the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill is passed in Parliament and the tobacco generational endgame (GEG) is implemented,” said Khairy. “I hope members of parliament (MPs) will make the right decision and choose to save two million lives, save our future generation and protect them from being addicted to smoking cigarettes and products containing nicotine, an extremely dangerous poison.”
In February 2022, Malaysia’s health minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced a ban on the sales of cigarettes and safer nicotine alternative products to anyone born in 2007 or beyond. The plan was released at the 150th session of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) executive board meeting where Jamaluddin said the hope is that the legislation is finalized this year and that it would bring about a “generation endgame to smoking.” If passed, it is expected to be enforced in 2025.
However, renowned international public health experts have written to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob warning him that such a measure would eventually just create a large black market and just fuel the illicit trade of the products.
The unintended consequences of harsh restrictions
In the letter, academics and tobacco harm reduction experts David Abrams, Clive Bates, Ray Niaura and David Sweanor, said that prohibitionist approaches may have unintended consequences. “We hope the government will consider the limitations and likely unintended consequences of prohibition measures. We hope ministers will consider the alternative approach of risk-proportionate regulation based on MPOWER and tobacco harm reduction.”
On the other hand, Khairy described the bill as crucial to restrict and regulate vape sales. “E-cigarettes contain nicotine, and nicotine addiction is 80 per cent higher compared with other substances. It takes only 10 seconds for smoke from nicotine products to reach our brain and two days for people to get addicted to it. It is extremely difficult to stop this habit once people are addicted to smoking.”
Violators, which would be anyone born in and after 2007 caught smoking will not be criminalised or jailed once the GEG law is enforced, explained the health minister. “Offences under the GEG (for offenders born in and after 2007) will not be registered under the Registration of Criminals (and Undesirable Persons Act 1969).” Instead he proposes a maximum fine of RM5,000 as a deterrent.