Ex-CJ knows best

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Ironic for the Government to be overzealous on tobacco when it is taking a more liberal approach on marijuana.

I refer to former Chief Justice, Tun Zaki Tun Azmi’s recent views on personal liberty, with regards to generational end game for tobacco users that was first tabled last year and will be re-tabled in the next parliamentary sitting.

As a well-practiced lawyer and a brilliant legal mind, Tun Zaki argues that the act of banning a certain age group from a product or habit may have potential contravention of Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which proclaims that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to equal protection of the law.

“The constitutional proclamation inhibits blanket and arbitrary discrimination — I must add that Article 8 must be interpreted as “operate alike on all persons under like circumstances”, rather than “all persons must be treated alike”.

He further writes “Allow me to illustrate this point further with a scenario in the near future: A group of colleagues, all of whom are of legal age, are lighting up during their cigarette break. Despite being in the same location and smoking cigarettes, only one of them is consuming a banned product because he was born in 2007 and one wonders where and how did that person purchase it.

The scenario above demonstrates how GEG is discriminatory as it deprives a generation of consenting adults of exercising their liberty while others are free to do as they wish, in similar circumstances. It is undeniable that the road to a tobacco-free society is paved with good intentions, but have we truly exhausted all policy options before risking a radical, abrupt, and untested approach?”

Tun Zaki’s question on whether we have truly exhausted all policy options should really be considered.

Apart from curtailing personal freedom and enshrining discrimination, the GEG element in the new Tobacco Control Bill sets a precedent for the Government to introduce more legislation that will infringe on an adult’s lifestyle choices.

It is a slippery slope that may be open to abuse and reinforces the paternalistic Government-knows-best attitude. What is next on the generation ban list then- alcohol? Sugary drinks? Fried food? Concerts?

It is also ironic for the Government to be overzealous on tobacco when it is taking a more liberal approach on marijuana.

While the Tobacco Control Bill is timely and needed given the speed of innovation in smokeless products like vape and heated tobacco, the GEG is not. Why can’t the Government introduce a Tobacco Bill that is separate from the GEG? Even if the Government wants to push for GEG, can’t it take a phasal approach like in New Zealand.

But still, I feel the GEG is a lazy way out to “guilt-trip” policy makers to support the Tobacco Control Bill. It side-tracks the discussion on a more forward looking way to regulate the tobacco industry.

It will be interesting to see Malaysian MPs scrutinize the bill when it is re-tabled especially on the definition of smoking and vaping. We have a chance to get ahead of the innovation in tobacco products with this new bill, do not squander the chance just because the Government needs to collect quick taxes now.

Think about the future implications.

The views expressed here are strictly those of Dennis Quah from Kota Damansara.