Smoking Is Not Cool Anymore – Vasanthi Ramachandran

For a change, Malaysia will be known for the right reasons, as we lead the way for tobacco-free future generations.

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it a thousand times.”  – Mark Twain

Adults addicted to smoking cannot be weaned from it that easily. Smokers themselves admit quitting smoking is agonising, and wish they had never started smoking in the first place.  

Smoking is not that cool anymore. We are running out of air. 

Now is the time we entrust our Parliamentarians to do the right thing, when the proposed Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill is tabled next week by the Ministry of Health.

Our representatives should vote for the interests of the rakyat, especially children. The vote should not be political, or backed with another dossier in their briefcases.  

If at all there is a sub-plot in their narrative, it would indeed be visible to the rakyat who will painstakingly stalk them.

The  “We will wait and see attitude” by some MPs towards the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill reflects an indifference to the fact that there are about 600,000 children (aged 11 to 18) who are part of an epidemic of vaping.

These children are being lured by tobacco companies with vaping devices with attractive flavours and packaging.

The Bill, touted as the “generation endgame”, ensures that children born in 2005 and thereafter will not ever smoke or vape, nor worry about quitting. For everyone else, they will be able to smoke and vape in permitted locations.

This is just a gradual generational endgame ban, with the eventual phasing out of nicotine by 2040. 

In the last few weeks, facts and figures have been pushed by the Malaysian Health Coalition, medical specialists, civic societies, parents, and teachers. They have called out to MPs to use their political will to support this Bill.

The basic facts and their pleas cannot be disregarded.

Smoking offers zero health benefits, but is the main contributor to nearly 30,000 tobacco-related deaths, causing a loss of RM132.7 million per year. This money could be spent in treating unpreventable cancers with unknown causes.

“Smoking before the age of 16, is associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer which is also the forerunner for the cause of heart disease, cancer of the bladder, and many other malignancies,” said Dr K Ampikaipakan, a senior respiratory physician and a founder of the Malaysian Thoracic Society.

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in Malaysia, with one of the highest mortality rates. With 90 per cent of lung cancer cases diagnosed in the late stages, it has the lowest survival rate compared to other cancers. 

Malaysia has grown to be the largest vaping market in the Southeast Asian region. The vape industry is estimated to be worth RM2.3 billion, with 330 manufacturers and importers and 3,000 retail shops employing around 15,000 people.

The new epidemic of vaping and other e-cigarette products among the young and non-smokers has its known and unknown potential risks. Researchers have found hazardous, cancer-causing agents in e-cigarette liquids as well.

There are now 4.9 million current smokers, and millions of others who are prone to getting cancer, due to second-hand smoke exposure. Victims include children who are involuntarily inhaling smoke.

This crisis has been in the making for generations. The system is rigged. The children suffer the negligence of the past and present eras. We cannot pretend that we had nothing to do with it. Neither will the crisis magically disappear.

“A situation if left unchecked, the government would have to bear treatment costs of about RM8 billion to treat health problems linked to smoking,” says Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

This is not about the Ministry of Health alone. Constitutional implementation is only the beginning of curbing smoking. This is a long-awaited bill that has been 12 years in the making.

Smoking bans in public places started to be implemented in the 1980s, and in 1994, selling cigarettes to children under the age of 18 was made forbidden.  

The process will only be sustainable if there is effective involvement and enforcement by all authorities concerned.

The public health measures are often not popular, or may even be controversial when introduced, especially if they are perceived to take away certain liberties. However, public health and the greater good of the community must always prevail over these liberties.  

In any case, we have been sublimely indoctrinated by the media. Though the usual message that “Smoking is injurious to health” is shown before a movie, it is useless when the message is followed by iconic heroes puffing away in the film.

Today, tobacco is slowly becoming an unwanted product. There should be no future for tobacco because of the adverse health effects. All of us have a moral stake in health. 

Representatives involved in education, enforcement, and media should empower themselves with proper housekeeping skills, with an intent to deliver their promises.

Malaysia is already making the news as the first country in the world to announce a decisive pathway towards legislation. For a change, we will be known for the right reasons, as we lead the way for tobacco-free future generations.

We call upon our representatives to step up and exercise their political will to do the right and responsible thing.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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