World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is celebrated on May 31 every year. The bold initiative taken by the World Health Organization in 1987 was to draw attention to the tobacco epidemic, in addition, to spreading awareness to the general public about the fatal effects of tobacco use.
This year, the theme is “We Need Food, Not Tobacco”, which aims “to raise awareness of alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and encourage them to grow sustainable and nutritious crops”.
Tobacco is cultivated for its leaves, then dried and fermented to make tobacco lethal products. It contains nicotine, an addictive ingredient, which is why millions of smokers, increasingly youth, struggle to quit.
Speaking of nicotine addiction, Malaysia has another good reason to mark WNTD this year — namely, to raise concern over widespread abuse of hazardous vape products, from Tambun to Ranau, according to the findings of All Parties Parliamentary Group – Sustainable Double Goals most recently.
This is after nicotine was bulldozed out of the Poisons List by the health minister in late March, making nicotine freely available to all. Indeed, “we need food, not nicotine”.
Hence, for a good 60 days, across the Hari Raya, Wesak, and Gawai festivities, until WNTD 2023, Malaysians have been forced to accept a very toxic public ill-health policy, particularly targeted to youth under-18 years, when the free-for-all nicotine policy was deliberately created by the health minister, thus far, without any remorse, less still an explanation, if not apology.
While playing dumb, her Special Adviser was quoted last week as saying, “As a respiratory consultant, I have seen many patients suffering from the effects of smoking and vaping. We all know the complications of diseases caused by smoking.
“Among the main complications is Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease which causes patients to have difficulty breathing due to damaged lungs.
“A new complication caused by vaping has also been detected, which is EVALI (E-Cigarette or Vaping Associated Lung Injury).
“For the record, over 30 cases of EVALI have been reported to MOH (Ministry of Health) so far,” he said, adding that the complication was not just affecting the patients, but also their wives and children.
Something is gravely amiss if the minister and the government are not privy to these profound facts!
This singularly makes the 2023 event the darkest moment in the history of WNTD.
Instead of instilling awareness to the general public about the harmful effects of tobacco and related products, the opposite is done shamelessly in the eyes of the world – where Malaysians, especially schoolchildren, are being enticed to abuse various forms of vape containing nicotine openly and unapologetically.
The propagation and promotion of nicotine to all and sundry continued even after the WNTD event using the pretext of fine-tuning the issue before bringing it to Parliament, supposedly by next month.
In other words, the powers-that-be have consciously left the door wide open for more EVALI cases, as though they are bankrupt of other actions in the matter, unlike other nations like Australia.
Moreover, the said adviser has reportedly recognised “of paramount importance to protect the health of the young generation and it comprises two main aspects, namely the control of smoking products including vape and e-cigarettes and the implementation of GEG [Generational End Game] policy”.
Why the double speak? Any form of delay under whatever excuses, especially due to lame political bureaucratic processes (intended or otherwise), is utterly irresponsible and unacceptable, causing untold harm.
This is like allowing Covid-19 to persist while knowing full well that it is deadly.
The newly minted health minister had announced at the end of last year that the GEG Bill on smoking and tobacco products control was to be re-tabled during the first sitting of Parliament this year!
Not only that was not met, but the downright unprofessional decision to delist nicotine also came as a surprise.
The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), which comprises 70 NGOs, professional bodies and medical associations, has already warned that taxes on all vape products before the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, or GEG Bill, becomes law would run counter to the government’s intention to create a smoke-free generation of Malaysians by 2040.
Unfortunately, they were blatantly vetoed, and a new promise was issued on April 1, 2023 by the health minister. This time, the new Bill to regulate smoking products will be tabled in May. Unfortunately, this turned out to be yet another political diversion.
Before more lies are spewed, we must reiterate MCTC’s earlier concerns and demand for the prioritisation of public health by fulfilling the promises made to the rakyat, with no more delays for the Bill and GEG provisions to become a law, due since October 2022.
In addition, the Consumers Association of Penang has also called for the speedy implementation of the broken promises by presenting the same Bill and GEG provisions in Parliament.
Enough of forsaking the health of the rakyat, especially the underaged. An apology is definitely warranted!
Prof Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is a neuropharmacologist and recipient of Malaysia’s Tobacco Control Icon Award 2023.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.