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Zaliha: Tobacco Bill Pending Cabinet Approval, MPs’ Votes Being Whipped

Dr. Zaliha Mustafa says Cabinet will discuss the tobacco & vape bill this Friday. If the bill gets Cabinet approval, she will seek to table it in June. The health minister adds that she’s working with party whips to get backbenchers to support the bill.

Health Minister Dr. Zaliha Mustafa (second from right) at the “Walk the Talk” event at the 76th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, on May 21, 2023. Photo from Dr. Zaliha Mustafa’s Facebook page.

GENEVA, May 22 – Cabinet’s meeting this Friday is set to discuss whether or not to approve the tobacco and vape control bill for tabling in Parliament, Dr Zaliha Mustafa said yesterday.

The health minister added that Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, during a recent meeting with her and officials from the Ministry of Health (MOH), had given the green light to the Control of Smoking Product for Public Health Bill 2023 that Dr Zaliha said will retain the generational end game (GEG).

The GEG — a controversial provision in the bill that was previously opposed by MPs across party lines from the 14th Parliament (some of whom remain in office today) — proposes a ban on tobacco and vape products for anyone born from 2007.

“We’ll try to push and we will try to get the Cabinet, as well as the MPs, to support this,” Dr Zaliha told CodeBlue at the sidelines of the 76th World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday.

“This is where we are really working very hard and we are meeting most MPs, as well as the backbenchers, through the whip, to make sure that they buy the ideas of the RUU with the GEG.

“So I think, yeah, we’ll do our level best. What happens of course, at the end of the day, is for the Parliament to decide. So we’ll see how. We’ll play by ear. But we’ll try to push – as much, as much, as much, as much.”

CodeBlue’s poll earlier this month among 31 government and Opposition MPs showed split support for the tobacco and vape control bill – not along party lines, but personal inclinations.

Seputeh MP Teresa Kok from the DAP, who participated in the CodeBlue survey, said then that “government backbenchers are supposed to support all government bills”.

Dr. Zaliha said the bill that will be presented to Cabinet contains amendments proposed by the parliamentary special select committee (PSSC) from the 14th Parliament that had perused the tobacco and vape control bill.

She did not specify what amendments were incorporated into the current version of the bill but maintained that the GEG is retained.

The PSSC, headed by then-Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, proposed last October to drop the ban on personal possession of tobacco or vape products for the next generation born from January 1, 2007.

“The one that was suggested by the committee – we refined back – so with the amendment, that will be the one that we hope to present to the Cabinet and if we get the proposal from Cabinet, then we go to Parliament with that,” the health minister told CodeBlue.

Dr. Zaliha added that she plans to brief as many MPs and Cabinet members about the tobacco and vape control bill, despite having previously briefed federal legislators on both sides of the divide last March.

“We’ll try again because we will go through the backbenchers as well.”

When CodeBlue asked Dr. Zaliha to explain why she deregulated liquid nicotine before the tabling and passage of the tobacco and vape control bill, the health minister said it was a “long story”.

She said Cabinet had discussed the tax on e-cigarette and vape liquids with nicotine, following the proposal in Anwar’s Budget 2023 speech last February 24, and that Cabinet wanted to impose the tax by April 1.

When asked why the government couldn’t wait, Dr. Zaliha said: “The decision was to push the bill as soon as possible.

“But the problem is the Parliament session – the first one – was quite short at that time. And it was before the tax wanted to impose on the 1st of April. So that was the reason. But PMX has given his commitment. It has to be pushed in the next session.”

Contrary to Dr Zaliha’s remarks, the first Dewan Rakyat meeting of this year from February 13 to April 4 was actually very long, having sat for 31 days. Excluding the two days of sittings in April, the Dewan Rakyat sat for 29 days until March 30.

The current Dewan Rakyat meeting from today is only scheduled for 11 days, comprising four days this week and seven days next month from June 6 to 15.

Dr. Zaliha said she is targeting to table the tobacco and vape control bill in June – if the bill is approved by the Cabinet meeting this Friday after this week’s Dewan Rakyat sittings.

The health minister will be returning to Malaysia before the Cabinet meeting, with Health director-general Dr. Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan to replace her on subsequent days of the WHA. The WHA is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Source: Code Blue

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