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The Malaysian ministry of health recently held a half-day consultation meeting to discuss the amendment of the 2004 Malaysian Control of Tobacco Products Regulations to bring them into line with the requirements of the FCTC. To the amazement of the 11 people from non-governmental organisations at the meeting, 11 representatives from the tobacco industry were also present, in addition to 10 ministry officials. Among the industry participants were what one startled health worker called a “gang” from BAT, as well as representatives of Philip Morris and Sampoerna, the Indonesian manufacturer it acquired last year, and Japan Tobacco International.
Health personnel protested, saying it was clearly inconsistent with the FCTC, but the official chairing the meeting said it was the ministry’s policy to be “transparent”. Sickeningly, the people interested in health had to listen to those interested in selling tobacco trotting out their public relations nonsense about how they fully supported the government in regulating tobacco in line with the FCTC.
Examples like this of the new public stance of the companies who fought tooth and nail to stop or subvert the FCTC are worrying. Either the companies think they can live with it, which means it is far from a comprehensive solution to controlling the industry, or else they will use their massive economic influence to try to ensure that national legislation passed under the FCTC has as many loopholes as it takes to allow them to carry on as before.
In the past, Malaysia was infamous for having among the world’s worst “voluntary agreement” with the tobacco industry, which took brand-stretching to new depths of absurdity. Conversely, it is known as one of the toughest countries in the world on the enforcement of laws against illegal drugs. When will it learn that allowing the tobacco industry a place at the health table is like consulting the Mafia on anti-drug laws? It is vital for the health of future generations of Malaysians that it does not find itself once again an international laughing stock for its tobacco control strategy, with the health of its citizens once more compromised.