By Malaysiakini

Former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has accused two cabinet ministers and “the gaffer” of blocking a bill aimed at making it illegal for those born after 2007 to buy or consume nicotine products.

Khairy wrote on his Instagram timeline that the two ministers are Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Azalina Othman Said and Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing.

As for “the gaffer”, it was likely in reference to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim as the term is a British slang for “the boss”.

While Putrajaya has not provided recent updates on the bill, health watchdog CodeBlue had claimed that the cabinet had decided to drop provisions related to the tobacco and vape ban based on age, commonly referred to as the “generational end-game” (GEG), from the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023.

According to CodeBlue, Attorney General Ahmad Terrirudin Mohd Salleh was of the opinion that the GEG provisions were “unconstitutional” because they violated Article 8 of the Federal Constitution which guaranteed equality before the law.

“To (the Attorney General’s Chambers), there will be two sets of laws for two different groups of citizens based on age,” a source told CodeBlue.

Khairy, who was the architect of the original bill, said the cabinet’s handling of the matter was “absolutely shambolic”.

He argued that when he was in charge of the bill, the AGC did not object but the position has now reportedly changed.

“You know why? A fierce critic of the GEG is none other than the law minister herself. She doesn’t want it passed.

“Big opponents of GEG in the cabinet are the law minister, tourism minister, and the gaffer,” he said.

Khairy had repeatedly argued that the GEG was necessary to protect public health as public spending on treatment for smoking and vaping-related illnesses was far higher than the taxes collected from the industry.

At the time when the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023 was drafted around 2022 and tabled in June 2023, the Attorney General was Idrus Harun. Idrus was replaced by Terrirudin in September.

‘Intelligible differentia’

When contacted, Azalina told Malaysiakini that the Attorney General is the legal adviser to the cabinet according to Article 145(2) of the Federal Constitution.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Azalina Othman Said

“Hence, as the legal adviser to the cabinet, the AGC has presented their legal views on the GEG during the cabinet meeting.

“All ministers have the prerogative as members of the cabinet to present their views on any matter including the paper on this bill but ultimately, the cabinet is collectively responsible for the decision made.

“By the way, who is ‘the gaffer’, if I may ask?” said Azalina.

While Azalina has not publicly commented on the GEG provisions, Tiong told Parliament last year that the punitive measures prescribed in the draft bill were too high and would unfairly punish lower-income groups. Tiong was not a cabinet member at the time.

Meanwhile, lawyer New Sin Yew argued on X (formerly Twitter) that Article 8 permits discrimination if there is an “intelligible differentia” and if the discrimination was in pursuit of a “legitimate objective”.

“There is an ‘intelligible differentia’ because it clearly identifies a class born before a specific time cannot smoke.

“Public health is a legitimate objective,” wrote New, who suggested that a way to get around the matter was to refine the wording in the GEG bill.