CME Calls For Pause On Generational End Game Bill Debate

A truly effective harm reduction strategy should be centered around the pillars of information and innovation – this is the core message that emerged from a panel discussion during the Innovation Summit Southeast Asia 2023, organized by the Center for Market Education (CME), in cooperation with the Property Rights Alliance and the Tholos Foundation from Washington, DC, and held on 10 May 2023 at the Asia School of Business in Kuala Lumpur. Some of the main findings are summarized in the attached infographic.

The Summit discussed the relationship between innovation, institutions, food security, free trade, and harm reduction. Harm reduction lifestyle and pleasure consumption: An innovation-led strategy for people’s health was the title of the third-panel discussion, moderated by Dr Carmelo Ferlito (CME); the session hosted presentations by Benedict Weerasena (Bait Al Amanah), Dr Arifin Fii (Advanced Centre for Addiction Treatment Advocacy), Samsul K. Arrifin (Malaysian Organization of Vape Entity) and Dr Walter De Wit (EY Global Trade Indirect Tax Partner).

Benedict Weerasena emphasized the negative consequences of a prohibitionist approach to harm reduction, in particular in terms of healthcare costs and penetration of illegal cigarettes. Benedict stressed that a proper harm reduction strategy should:

  • Focus on prevention of harm, rather than prevention of behaviour; Use evidence-based policy and practice; Be Pro-Choice and committed to Universal Human Rights; Empower individuals as the primary agent responsible for reducing harm; 
  • Accept behaviour change as an incremental process.

Dr Arifin illustrated how it is the mix of chemicals and not the nicotine that produces serious damage to health. Furthermore, he showed that extreme toxicity comes from combusted tobacco (with cigarettes being much more harmful than cigars), while we progress toward much lower degrees of harm with smokeless tobacco and, above all, nicotine replacement products and e-cigarettes. Countries that have taken into account this information for a realistic harm reduction approach, such as Sweden and Japan, recorded much better results in terms of smoking decline than countries that embraced prohibition, such as Australia.

Samsul K. Arrifin, in stressing the importance of a science-based approach to harm reduction, produced a series of evidence testifying to both the misinformation surrounding alternative nicotine products and how researchers have shown that indeed alternative products are much less harmful to health.

Therefore, Dr Walter De Wit proposed a system of different taxation in order to orient consumer choices in favour of alternative products. In this way, not only consumers’ behaviour change will be supported, but also innovation would be spurred, as an adaptive response to the policy.

In conclusion, Dr Carmelo Ferlito listed four pillar considerations for an effective harm reduction strategy:

  • Human beings are pleasure-seekers; Prohibition does not stop pleasure consumption, but channels it toward illegal and more harmful ways of consumption; Freedom of choice should be enriched with education for building freedom of informed choice;
  • Innovation is key to developing new and less harmful ways of pleasure consumption.

These considerations, further supported by more evidence presented in the attached infographic, brings CME to advance the following policy suggestions:

Pause the debate around the Generational End Game (GEG) bill, in order to properly evaluate the costs and benefits of the policy. Engage more holistically with the relevant stakeholders. Carefully evaluate the scientific evidence from existing studies, to promote a scientific and non-ideological policy strategy. Abandon a prohibition-based approach in favour of an innovation-based approach which could benefit the country in terms of:

Healthcare savings; FDIs; Employment opportunities; Fiscal revenues.

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