KUALA LUMPUR, AUGUST 2 2022: On July 26 2022, the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MOH) proposed a bill in parliament which is referred to as the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 with the aim of ending the consumption of tobacco products among Malaysians born on January 1 2007 and later. Although the vision is favourable from a medical and health perspective, the contents of the bill are problematic particularly in terms of enforcement.
Firstly, clause 17 stipulates that any person born on January 1 2007 onwards who is found guilty of smoking or possessing any tobacco product or substitute, or even just using any smoking device shall be liable to a fine not exceeding RM500 (initially RM5000 but has been reduced according to a tweet by YB Khairy Jamaluddin). This means that a punitive method will be used to combat smoking addiction which is a health issue, not a crime, further stigmatising it among the community. On top of that, the deliberate decision of implementing a fine will lead to lower income people being disproportionately affected as it will further burden them financially. It is common knowledge that punishment is not a deterrent and a person who is fined has no actual incentive to cease their smoking; they will merely be more vigilant to avoid getting into trouble again with the authorities. Thus, the bill is clearly contradictory to its supposed end goal.
Besides that, clauses 26, 31, and 34 pose a great threat to the safety of the people as they unnecessarily empower authoritative bodies, enabling them to abuse their power and terrorise individuals as well as communities. This is largely due to the use of ambiguous language within the bill. There is no clear indication of what is considered as suspicious behaviour to justify giving power to the authorities to enter premises, stop, search as well as seize conveyance, and access recorded information including but not limited to computerised data. Passing the bill without revising these clauses will jeopardise the security and privacy of people, including those who are in proximity to a suspect. The passing of the ineffective IPCC bill should also be highlighted as there is currently no strong independent body to monitor the activities of the authorities, further accentuating the inevitable abuse of power that will come with the passing of this bill.
Moreover, clause 33 which empowers the authorities to enforce measures contained within clause 32 without a warrant is detrimental to the people. Regardless of whether or not the authorities do possess reason to forgo a delayed warrant in order to search and seize a premise (by force if necessary as provided in clause 32), this sets a precedent for them to do so anyway, being held accountable for it (if at all) only after it has been weaponized against a suspect. This is clearly an unnecessary amount of power to give to any authoritative body which harms the people, especially marginalised and lower income groups who are disproportionately targeted by them.
As mentioned, YB Khairy Jamaluddin, the Minister of Health, has uploaded a tweet on August 1 2022 at 6.15pm which states that some small amendments have been made to the bill including the reduction of the maximum fine, the addition of a community service option, the outlawing of body searches on those below 18 years old, and the removal of punishments for those who are caught possessing tobacco products. However, these changes are insufficient as the clauses that enable abuse of power still exist. The alterations on the other hand have not changed the efficacy of the bill as whether it is a fine of RM 500 or RM 5000, they are both huge amounts for lower income people, causing them to still be disproportionately affected. In addition, no one should be subjected to a body search for committing any offence related to this bill.
In summary, the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 proposed by the MOH should be thoroughly revised before even being considered to pass in parliament. It is full of dangerous provisions that expose the people to violations of their democratic and human rights. With this, Pemuda Sosialis demands for a bill that is designed with the best interest of the people in mind, centering methods of rehabilitation instead of punishment in order to resolve the issue of smoking in the nation. The MOH should also consider providing free nicotine patches and other safe alternatives to aid people in overcoming their smoking addiction if they truly care about the people’s health.