Is the anti-smoking bill a mere smokescreen?

FOLLOWING the tabling of the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill 2022 in Dewan Rakyat, I tried to get a hold of the document, but to no avail. The highlight of the bill was that those who are born on and after 2007 are not allowed to purchase any tobacco and vape products in Malaysia.

Later, I ask an older gentleman taking his afternoon tea in Bandar Leila, Sandakan: What do you think of this proposed tobacco and smoking bill? He said, “Lemon tea tiada gula.” (Lemon tea with no sugar added.) Oh man, this is going to be interesting, I said to myself. 

“First of all, young people, smoking will have adverse effects on you, it’s bad for your health,” he said. “I used to smoke three packs a day during the years I worked in accounting at a timber company. Back then, one could smoke with the wall-mounted air-conditioner on and I would balance the accounts with my trusty abacus. Yes, I would light up my cigarette and do work.”

The said tea-drinking gentleman was known to be a no-nonsense accountant who would reprimand anyone who abused company funds, and that included the boss’ son and the boss himself. His attention to detail and ability to balance the sheets by 4pm every day was astonishing. His famous line was “numbers do not lie, people do.”

After he retired, he cut down his consumption of cigarettes after he discovered green mucus in his saliva. That gave him a scare. He now lives a quiet life, unmarried and living in a house with a few acres of land, rented from his former employer. He started to plant vegetables to sell at the market, and sublet part of his rented property to businesses. He used to babysit me during lunch after my father dropped me off, after a day at kindergarten.

Smoking is a matter of choice and it’s one’s liberty to do so. It is none of the government’s business to be poking into one’s private affairs. If the government is hell bent on saving Malaysians, then the logical approach would be to shut down tobacco factories and stop farmers from planting tobacco. But do they dare to make such a move? Instead, they bully us and the rest of the country to get what they want. Our civil liberty is assured in the Federal Constitution under Part 2 (Fundamental Liberties) Art 5(1): “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.”

Pakatan Harapan during its short stint as the ruling government enforced a smoking ban in eateries and it is still enforced until today. Smokers generally comply and would have their puff after a hearty meal of nasi kandar outside the eatery. You know your place in public.

The government should consider improving the anti-smoking bill to include vaping for additional sin tax. These proposals are doable and have found success in many countries, take for example, one cannot walk and smoke in Manila anymore. Locals authorities prepare a very small area too inconvenient for smokers to take a puff. Therefore, the only place you can smoke would be in your castle. President Duterte made it quite clear on his stance on the war against smoking and creating a smoke-free environment. So is the proposed anti-smoking bill the right move now? 

This gung-ho approach taken leads only to one conclusion: it is a smokescreen. What is the government trying to cover up or draw attention away from? Well, only time will tell. The bill is a career-ending move, let alone the disrespectful words uttered by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in parliament regarding the bill. I would have thought that with his educational background he would be mindful.

So if you are a smoker, I’d say reduce and try to quit entirely if you can. Vaping is not cool either, and remember the green mucus developing in your lungs. Live a healthy life, it is a wonderful world out there and you are in it to enjoy it. – August 5, 2022.

* Remy Majangkim reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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