Malaysia’s health minister sued over open nicotine for the first time in the history of anti-smoking lawsuits

Malaysian anti-tobacco and children’s rights advocates have taken legal action against Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa and the government over the removal of nicotine substances from the Poisons Act, according to CodeBlue.

 

The historic lawsuit against the health minister

On June 30, the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), together with the Malaysian Green Lung Association (MGLA) and Voice of the Children (VoC), filed a historic lawsuit in the Supreme Court. ) and more than 40 other organizations have filed an application for judicial review in the Supreme Court, seeking a court order to quash an order issued by the Minister of Health on March 31 this year, which removed liquid and gel nicotine from the list of the Poisons Act 1952.

In their complaint, MCTC, MGLA, and VoC state:

“As the Minister charged with protecting public health, she has in fact failed in that duty, prioritizing instead the revenue from taxes. In effect, the Minister’s actions have harmed public health, especially as the most vulnerable children in our society.”

In a historic move, anti-tobacco and children’s rights groups have sued the Malaysian Minister of Health for harming public health, the first of its kind in public health and anti-tobacco litigation.

 

This pits the health minister and the government, particularly the Ministry of Health, against health advocates in the courts.

A “flawed” law

Civil society organizations filed the lawsuit after the government referred the Public Health Smoking Products Control Act 2023 to the Special Select Committee on Health. Health Minister Zaliha acknowledged a “flaw” in the law that “allows” the legal sale of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes to minors under the age of 18.

The lawsuit by MCTC, MGLA and VoC accuses Zaliha of violating the Poisons Act. The applicants argue that the Minister of Health’s failure to consult or adequately consult with the Poisons Board, an independent body required by the Poisons Act, amounts to “ineffective consultation” and violates the requirements of Section 6 of the Poisons Act.

In addition, the applicant argued that the Minister of Health did not give sufficient consideration to the views and decisions of the Poisons Board, nor did he have reasonable grounds to refute the decision of the Poisons Board.

Previously, the Malaysian government had never consulted on a government bill before it was submitted to the Special Select Committee on Health. mctc, mgla and voC stated in court documents that it was unclear as to when the Public Health Smoking Products Control Bill would be submitted for second reading or passed in Parliament.

Health minister facing duties

The applicants also accuse the Minister of Health of violating the provisions of the Poisons Act because she failed to exercise her independent judgment under the Poisons Act.

The applicants claim that the Minister of Health violated the Poisons Act by deferring to the wishes of the Ministry of Finance and ignoring the decisions of the Poisons Board. They argue that the Treasury’s need to tax is not a valid reason to remove toxic substances from the Poisons List.

It is reported that the case will be heard by the High Court on July 26. Current Health Minister Zariha, the first female health minister in Malaysia’s history, was appointed to the cabinet by Prime Minister Anwar in December 2022.

The civil society legal action marks a highly escalating opposition from the medical and anti-tobacco communities to the lifting of the ban on liquid nicotine, a frustration compounded by the government’s failure to secure passage of the 2023 tobacco bill at the last Dewan Rakyat meeting.