Promotion Of Harm Reduction Strategies To Minors Is Just Industry Marketing – MCTC

As the current Health Minister, Khairy Jamaluddin is well within the accepted global public health scientific discourse when he dismissed the idea of harm reduction as a less harmful alternative to smoked tobacco.

The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) reacts strongly to the statement by the Advanced Centre for Addiction Treatment Advocacy condemning caretaker Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin for his comments on the promotion of tobacco harm reduction strategies to minors.

The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) would like to express its full support to the minister’s statement who reaffirmed the scientific views on the issue. As the current health minister, Khairy is well within the accepted global public health scientific discourse when he dismissed the idea of harm reduction as a less harmful alternative to smoked tobacco.

Leading global health organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) have dismissed tobacco harm reduction or the offering of vape as the main tool through which individuals can be presented as a ‘less-harmful’ smoking mechanism as merely a part of industry marketing strategies.

It needs to be remembered that the entire approach of tobacco harm reduction was coined and developed by the tobacco and vape industry, and till this day continues to be championed by industry, industry-sponsored or industry-supported organisations – which keep popping up with new names and faces every so often.

All stakeholders involved in the drafting of the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 are well aware of the needs of existing smokers who need to be provided with alternatives to conventional tobacco products. It is within this context that in the new law, vaping devices were being registered via a legal framework; and this is something that industry players are well aware of.

For existing adult smokers, vaping devices will continue to be made available so that they have an option to switch to these. Under the law, there are also provisions made for ensuring that existing smokers, be they of whatever age, have equitable access to scientifically approved smoking cessation mechanisms.

However, the industry narrative has been to push for blanket widespread availability, claiming that through harm reduction, vaping and e-cigarette products should be readily and widely available for anyone without restrictions, including children and those who will be 18 from 2007 onwards — just in case they may need to urgently quit smoking.

This is, of course, conveniently camouflaging the entire truth that these group of individuals are ‘never-smokers’ who would have no history of smoking in the first place and would thus never require smoking cessation, as it turns out.

To paraphrase the minister, making these products widely available just means that you are actually causing harm creation, instead of harm reduction!

Unfortunately, industry needs to continue championing the narrative of ‘widely available just in case someone needs to quit’ because the sales volumes would be extremely different when compared to their own ‘friendly scientific evidence’.

When utilised as part of effective smoking cessation regimens, the prescription, sale and use of vaping and e-cigarette devices need to be monitored under the purview of health professionals, not just through purchasing at your neighbourhood mamak.

Sales revenues via this business channel, sadly, will be much lower and finally, it is this which continues to underpin the industry-supported calls for open, widespread availability of vaping and e-cigarette devices without any restrictions.

Evidence has shown that, and growing evidence continues to show that, globally, individuals are not stopping the use of tobacco when they are using vape or other e-cigarette products.

Statistics reveal most become dual-users; and many who were ‘never smokers’ i.e. would have never smoked conventional tobacco in their lives are getting addicted to nicotine through these delivery mechanisms, including children in large numbers.

So, although the industry is well aware that under the current law, vaping and e-cigarette products are available for existing smokers, this is nowhere near the commercial profitability that they can have by making products widely available without any restrictions.

The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control is heartened by the minister and the government’s approach to ensure that the rights of all, including smokers, is being provided for fairly by this act while not merely falling prey to industry narratives peddled by unknown individuals and organisations.

We will continue to champion for the generational end game, in which Malaysia will be smoke-free in our lifetime, and we fully support all parliamentarians and parties who support this cause.

The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control is the umbrella organisation of health care professional organisations and civil society organisations working on tobacco control in Malaysia.

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

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