MALAYSIA – The Malaysian government needs to enact a standalone law on tobacco control with standardised packaging rules before the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement comes into effect.
According to Dr Zarihah Mohd Zain, former head of the tobacco control unit at the Health Ministry who served there from 1994 to 2012, even though tobacco has been carved out from the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in the free trade treaty, other provisions in the TPP like the transparency chapter allow the industry to be consulted as a stakeholder in relevant policy and lawmaking.
“The current Control of Tobacco Product Regulations made under the Food Act are not sufficient,” Dr Zarihah said, adding that the Food Act is unsuitable for legislating cigarettes.
She warned that it will be very difficult to enforce plain packaging under the current tobacco regulations, and explained that the tobacco carve-out from ISDS provisions in the TPP, which Malaysia has signed, merely prevents tobacco companies from directly suing the government.
“But the industry can go through the US government to sue the Malaysian government,” said Dr Zarihah, who is currently medical director of non-governmental organisation Malaysian Women Action for Tobacco Control and Health.
“If you ask me what has the TPP anything to do with plain packaging, well, that free trade agreement has strong provisions for intellectual property and allows the tobacco industry to interfere with the process of enacting policies or laws to control tobacco. Of course the industry will fight tooth and nail to stop that,” Dr Zarihah added.
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