In a recent Parliament sitting, MPs discussed the effectiveness of measures in reducing the prevalence of smoking. Workers’ Party MP Leon Perera asked about exploring giving only confirmed smokers controlled access to e-cigarettes as a means of smoking cessation and harm reduction. He also urged the government to consider introducing plain paper packaging for cigarettes.
What Mr Perera asked had sounded reasonable. One would have expected the political holders of MOH to give a proper response. Unfortunately, the response Mr Perera got was highly disappointing. Senior Minister of State for Health, Mr Chee Hong Tat insinuated that Mr Perera were motivated by the prospect of any commercial gain.
Specifically, SMS Chee asked:
“During the debate, Mr Perera, in his speech, supported the use of e-cigarettes, which is also what tobacco companies have advocated. I’d like to seek clarification from Mr Perera, that I understand he’s the CEO of Spire Group which is a research and consulting company. I wanted to ask and confirm if the Member has any interest he wishes to declare.”
To that, Mr Perera replied:
“My comments are not in any way motivated by any prospect of financial gain. As a general matter of policy, the work my company does, does not pertain to tobacco business at all. And that’s a position we have taken historically, so I do not serve tobacco clients in my private capacity in the work that I do for this company.”
But SMS Chee wasn’t satisfied. He didn’t let up. He pressed on:
“I had only asked the Member if he had any interest to declare. Can I also ask Mr Perera if Henkel, a key manufacturer of adhesives for cigarettes, is a client of the Spire group of which Mr Perera is CEO?”
So Mr Perera had to reply emphatically:
“Henkel, I believe, has been a very small past client. But as I mentioned earlier, we don’t support tobacco companies. We don’t work with tobacco companies as clients … and therefore there is no commercial motivation in the comments I’ve made. And I want to register my very strong objection to any insinuation that there is any commercial motivation to the comments that I’ve made.”
We agree that we should guard against any MPs lobbying for any company because they stand to gain financially from it. It’s a disease that has infected American politics and we should avoid at all cost. So any MP is lobbying for any company for their own financial gain should be called out, ad conclusive evidence presented to the public so that we can punish that MP during the next GE.
However, is that the case with Mr Perera?
Mr Perera has stated that he has not done business with any of the tobacco companies. But what about this Henkel? Yes, Henkel makes adhesives for cigarettes. But they do a lot more things too! For example, Henkel is to acquire hair professional business Shisedo. They also make products for laundry care under the brand Persil. And that’s just two of the plethora of brands and businesses that Henkel is involved in.
So even if Mr Perera’s company has done work for Henkel, it’s not necessary that work had anything to do with the tobacco industry! Besides, how does advocating for giving only confirmed smokers controlled access to e-cigarettes as a means of smoking cessation and harm reduction going to advance the business interests of a company that makes adhesives for cigarettes? If anything, it would negatively affect that business, because e-cigarettes likely won’t use those adhesives!
It’s disappointing that SMS Chee decided to respond to Mr Perera’s parliamentary in that way. It added nothing to the quality of discussion in parliament.
Worse, it degrades it. Now people are more focussed on this pointless exchange based on a stupid insinuation, that people probably won’t have read what Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin’s proper response. You can also watch his speech here.
In that response, he pointed to many studies which show that it’s too early to conclude if e-cigarettes are good or bad. He also highlighted some studies which show that the overall quality of evidence that e-cigarettes can help smokers to quit is low. Mr Amrin highlighted that MOH is open to evidence proving that e-cigarettes are safe and effective for smoking cessation. He said:
“(e-cigarette) manufacturers can submit evidence for us to evaluate their products for registration as smoking cessation therapy under the Health Products Act. So far, none has done so.”
But most importantly, Mr Amin has reiterated the Government’s stance on tobacco control laws. They’re basically for strengthening control laws, and the aim is to denormalise smoking.