Tobacco And Cancer – Dr Soh Yih Harng, Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming & Dr Feisul Idzwan Mustapha

Nearly 9 of 10 lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking tobacco or second-hand smoke exposure. If implemented properly, the tobacco control bill can save billions of ringgit on health expenditure and minimise the need to treat tobacco-related illnesses.

Smoking is a significant threat to public health. Each year, it kills more than eight million people, including about 1.2 million who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Tobacco products include cigars, roll-your-own cigarettes, and water pipes. All forms of tobacco are bad for health. There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. 

Toxins in tobacco can weaken the body’s immune system, making it harder to kill cancer cells. When this happens, the growth of cancer cells will be difficult to stop.

Tobacco smoke contains poisons that can damage or change a cell’s DNA. DNA is the “instruction manual” of a cell. It controls how a cell grows and works. When DNA is broken, a cell can start to grow out of control, which can lead to cancer.

Tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer. Nearly nine out of 10 lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking tobacco or exposure to second-hand smoke exposure. 

In Malaysia, lung cancer is the third common cancer, followed by breast and colorectal cancer. Each year, we have around 3,000 people with newly detected lung cancer in Malaysia. More than 90 per cent of lung cancer cases were found at a very late stage (III and IV) in both sexes.  

Other than lung cancer, cancer can happen almost anywhere in your body if you smoke. Cancers caused by tobacco include those of the colon, mouth, nose and sinuses, pharynx (upper throat), larynx (voice box), oesophagus (food pipe), pancreas, liver, stomach, kidney, breast, ovary, bladder, prostate, and leukaemia.

Over 80 per cent of 1.3 billion tobacco users globally live in low- and middle-income countries, including Malaysia. Tobacco use makes people poor because it diverts money away from basic needs like food and shelter.

The economic costs of tobacco are high, including a lot of money spent on health care to treat diseases caused by tobacco. Tobacco cost the economy a total of US$1,436 billion in 2016, equal to 1.8 per cent of the world’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). Almost 40 per cent of these costs is in developing countries, which shows how much these countries have to bear.

The Malaysian government and the private sector each spend between RM7 billion and RM8 billion per year to treat tobacco-related illness like lung cancer. This brings the total cost to about RM16 billion per year for the cost of treating patients. 

Tobacco imposes a heavy economic burden globally, particularly in developing countries. Governments need to undertake stricter tobacco control policies to reduce these costs.

According to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 intends to establish a Generational End Game (GEG) for non-smokers born on or after January 1, 2007.

The purpose of the Bill is to prohibit anybody born after January 1, 2007 from purchasing cigarettes and other tobacco and vaping products. If implemented properly, it can save billions of ringgit on health expenditure and minimise the need to treat tobacco-related illnesses. 

We all want to live healthier and longer lives. Please stay away from tobacco!

Dr Soh Yih Harng, a DrPH candidate, and Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming are from the Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence-Based Practice, Department of Social Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya. Dr Feisul Idzwan Mustapha is a public health specialist with the Ministry of Health.

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

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