‘Letters’ make their way to news portals as tobacco lobby escalates war on Khairy’s ‘endgame’ bill

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Tobacco companies in Malaysia have embarked on an intense media letter-writing campaign in a bid to thwart Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s bill to end the habit of smoking, MalaysiaNow has learned. .

Using various pseudonyms, some of the letters provide a seemingly ‘objective’ argument to counter the Health Ministry’s ‘tobacco generation endgame’, while others poke fun at Khairy’s battle to get the bill passed. on tobacco products and tobacco control in Dewan Rakyat.

“Letter writing is the cheapest form of media warfare, but as effective, if not more so, than the expensive branded content companies normally put out in newspapers and online portals,” said one individual who claimed having been hired by a tobacco company to enlist. with local media told MalaysiaNow.

Examples of “branded content” he referred to are paid placements of written articles and advertorials in newspapers, a growing trend among businesses around the world at a time when branded direct marketing is becoming increasingly more unpopular.

“But the downside of such placements is that the name of the sponsor has to be mentioned at the bottom for transparency,” the writer, who only wanted to be known as Ting, told MalaysiaNow.

“That’s something that tobacco companies are not allowed to do.”

Malaysia bans all forms of advertising by tobacco companies, including disguised ones such as event sponsorship and brand stretching, where non-tobacco products use cigarette brand names.

In recent days, several news portals have published identical letters in English and Malay, criticizing Khairy’s plans while being careful to avoid being perceived as promoting smoking.

In one such letter published by a local news site, the writer said the bill was “hastily constructed, a hallmark of ill-thought-out Malaysian projects waiting to implode”.

“There’s really no need to rush things. If we can’t even effectively implement a restaurant smoking ban, how can we execute an even more ambitious plan to introduce a generational smoking ban? , which has not yet been done anywhere else in the world?

“At the risk of sounding like a tobacco advocate, I want to make it clear that I am all for tobacco control for health reasons. What I am against is rushed work that does not is not well thought out, which can explode in our face in the time to come.”

Tobacco company lobbying also appears to have extended to parliament, where Khairy yesterday tabled the Tobacco Products and Tobacco Control Bill 2022 for a first reading.

This drew strong words from a medical expert involved in shaping the Department of Health’s anti-smoking policies.

Dr Helmy Haja Mydin slammed the tobacco company representatives he says have been spotted in parliament and reminded MPs of their public health obligation.

“What are they doing here? asked Helmy, a respiratory disease specialist at a private hospital in Kuala Lumpur who also acts as an adviser to the Ministry of Health on tobacco and smoking laws.

“This directly impacts our democratic process and goes against FCTC regulations. I call on all MPs to declare if they have met with these lobbyists,” Helmy said on Twitter, referring to the Convention. Framework for Tobacco Control, an international treaty adopted in 2013 on the right to better health conditions.

MPs are split on the bill, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim among those questioning it.

His claim that the government was “bulldozing” the bill drew fire from former Deputy Director General of Health Dr Lokman Hakim, who said the PKR leader should know better how a draft of law takes shape because it was once in government.

“This bill is one of the longest to be drafted in the Ministry of Health before it came to this. I know this because I was involved in re-legislation as Deputy Director General of Health ( public health) It was fast-tracked after we failed to get cabinet approval in 2016 to ban vaping, which just wanted it controlled,” he said.

If passed, the bill will criminalize the use of any tobacco product or tobacco substitute product by people born after 2007.

It will also prohibit the possession and use of smoking devices such as tobacco and smoking substances, with violators liable to a fine of up to RM5,000.

Khairy said the bill aims to prevent future generations from becoming involved in smoking and addiction, and to reduce the percentage of smokers in Malaysia to less than 5% by 2040.

Government statistics from 2019 show that one in five Malaysians aged 15 and above are smokers.

It also revealed that 17% of people aged 13 to 15 are smokers, as are 9% of children aged 12 and under.

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