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Generational End Game (GEG)

   In January 2022, Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s former Health Minister, unveiled what appeared to be one of the most instrumental health plans that the Malaysian government has embarked on was The Generational End Game (GEG). This plan aims to eradicate the consumption of tobacco in Malaysia by 2040, and potentially wipe out the habit of smoking. This, in effect, would effectively reduce the primary causes of death from the consumption of tobacco. Data indicates that the two most significant causes of death due to tobacco consumption are cardiovascular diseases, accounting for 21.49%, and respiratory infections, constituting 17.5% of fatalities. 

Malaysia’s Past Efforts in Reducing the Use of Tobacco 

   Having said that, it should be acknowledged that Malaysia has long been in a prolonged battle against tobacco, dating back to the year 1990 with its enactment of the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations. Despite more than 20 years of concerted efforts, the decrease in smoking rates has been slow, with only an 8.5% decline in the past 19 years. Particularly concerning is the persistence of high smoking rates among males, with a minimal decrease from 49.5% in 2003 to 40.5% in 2019. With over 28,600 deaths annually attributed to smoking, the need for effective tobacco control measures becomes increasingly urgent. 


In response to this pressing need, the Tobacco Product and Smoking Control Bill incorporated the measures of GEG, and was tabled for first reading in the Parliament on the 12th of June. In essence, the bill prohibits individuals born after the 1st of January 2007 from smoking, purchasing, or possessing cigarettes and vape products. The punishment is a maximum fine of RM 5000 upon conviction. Nevertheless, despite strides made by neighbouring countries such as Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, and Thailand in banning vape and heated tobacco products, the proposed vape prohibition within the bill has encountered vociferous opposition from pro-vaping factions and industry stakeholders. Critics of the bill also argue against the potential criminalization of minors and infringement upon fundamental liberties.  

Case Study: New Zealand's Efforts in Reducing the Consumption of Tobacco 

   The New Zealand government took a big step in 2022 by enacting a similar legislation which amends the previous Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990. The new statute, known as the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act, which sought to restrict tobacco sales, limit nicotine content in tobacco products, and prohibit sales to individuals born on or after the 1st of January, 2009. However, the fervor surrounding New Zealand’s world-first smoking ban was short-lived. Following the formation of a new coalition government in the early 2024, the ban was repealed. The reason for this repeal was expressed by Casey Costello, an Associate of the Health Minister, who stated that “The last government was moving towards an untested regime that ignored how well quit smoking initiatives were working, and the potential downside of taking a prohibitionist approach for smokers, or for retailers and crime.

Criminalising the Use of Tobacco in Malaysia 

  In contrast to New Zealand's Smoke-Free Generation approach, Malaysia's adaptation of the GEG places the responsibility on individual smokers and vapers rather than on retailers, sellers, manufacturers, and distributors. The Chief Executive and Health Expert of Galen Centre, an independent public policy research and advocacy organisation, has noted that there is minimal value in punishing addicted individuals. Instead, the right solution to addressing addiction should be treating it as a medical problem. To support this, Dr Steven Chow, the President of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) pointed out that legislators should make medical intervention the focus, and not criminalisation. He added that there are several long-established processes to combat tobacco addiction, such as the tobacco harm reduction programs. Nevertheless, Malaysia has yet to embark on any of these meaningful initiatives.  


 Soon after, Malaysia revised our Control of Smoking Products for Public Health 2023 Bill. Many raise the question, “Was the aspiration to phase out generations from smoking a complete failure?” and “What was the reason for the removal of these stringent measures that were once working?”. I will delve deeper into the challenges encountered by the government when attempting to implement a complete ban on tobacco consumption. 

Economic Impacts of Malaysia’s Tobacco Ban 

   While many argue that the ban on tobacco would save the Malaysian government and the private sector approximately RM16 billion per year from treating tobacco-related diseases, it is crucial to take a step back and assess the economy from a macro level.  

Firstly, the cigarette industry, whose pool of consumers has reduced, would shrink. With higher compliance costs associated with the bill, businesses might find it tough to remain profitable in already tough economic conditions. As a result, some may resort to shutting down their businesses, leaving thousands of workers jobless. This goes the same for the vaping industry which employs more than 15,000 workers who are mainly locals and 3300 businesses. As Mr. Pankaj Kumar, the Managing Director of Datametrics Research and Information Sendirian Berhad adds “If the said bill passes, it would result in loss in jobs, closures in businesses, and a severe social impact on the lower-income groups.” 


 Moving on, investments may also be deterred due to the over restrictive laws on an international scale. Mr. Pankaj Kumar further adds that even business owners, body corporates, and companies can be held liable for various offenses, which could severely affect investors' confidence in doing business in Malaysia. As a result, this would undermine the nation’s attractiveness as an investment destination, potentially impacting tourism activities as well.   

Concerns regarding the potential Misuse of Enforcement Power 

   Another area of concern pertains to the broad language employed in the legislation, which, if not carefully monitored, could lead to abuse. For instance, Section 30 of the Tobacco and Smoking Bill grants officers authority to search individual’s belongings and seize tobacco products, cigarettes, vapes, and related items. 

   Dr. Kelvin Yii, who is the Chair of the Parliament Special Select Committee (PSC) on Health, Science, and Innovation, emphasized in a media statement on the importance of establishing a monitoring framework to ensure the Act achieves its goals. He further highlighted that since the bill primarily targets juveniles and even children, “The power to inspect, possibly body check and punish a child for possession must be heavily controlled to prevent abuse.” 

   Additionally, the fear that the GEG ban may fuel the size of illicit tobacco markets is an equally alarming one. Presently, a significant proportion up to 58.4% of cigarettes sold in the country are illegal. Mr. Pankaj Kumar contends that the incidence of illicit trade would rise as high as 61.7% if the outright ban was to be passed. Should illicit markets proliferate after the ban, questions arise regarding the efficacy of enforcement and the implementation of security measures. 

GEG infringes on Human Rights 

   Another issue lies in GEG’s encroachment upon a consumer's fundamental right to choose. Tun Zaki Tun Azmi, the sixth Chief Justice of Malaysia, voiced his concerns in an open letter, explaining that Article 8 of the Federal Constitution should be interpreted as the law having to “operate alike on all persons under the circumstances’, rather than ‘all persons must be treated alike.” He goes on to state that while the state may rightfully use age as a criterion to regulate certain abilities such as marrying, voting, and contractual capacity, such criteria should act as a temporary gatekeeper as opposed to the Bill’s permanent prohibition.   

   Highlighting this statement, Paneir Selvam, the principal consultant of a nonpartisan organisation dedicated to policy research, emphasized that “The law must be fair for all generations and every group of society. The law cannot only give one advantage to one generation and deprive it of another.” This aligns with the Consumer Choice Centre (CCC), which stresses the importance of allowing adults the autonomy to make personal choices concerning their lifestyle. They also called on the government and the Members of Parliament to examine this matter holistically. However, it appears that serious consideration has yet to be given to the matter. 


   Personally, I can see that there are several shortcomings within the GEG that still remain unaddressed. While the policy represents a commendable step forward, it's crucial not to overlook the potential impact on affected parties. Perhaps, it is wise to consider the concerns regarding the constitutionality of the legislation in future implementations. As highlighted by Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau, a member of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) overseeing the GEG review, “any ambiguity regarding the bill's constitutionality could result in wasted time and effort should the courts later declare it unconstitutional after its passage.

Written By: Lam Zi Wei

Edited By: Michelle Lee Shu Ling and Suhana Kabeer

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