New Straits Times - - Letters - RUEBEN DUDLEY, Pe­tal­ing Jaya, Se­lan­gor.

IT is tragic that a size­able por­tion of our smok­ers are as young as 15. The Na­tional Health Mor­bid­ity Sur­vey 2015 showed that about five mil­lion or 22.8 per cent of the Malaysian pop­u­la­tion, aged 15 and above, were smok­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion (WHO), about six mil­lion peo­ple, of whom 1.5 mil­lion are women, die due to to­bacco use ev­ery year, a fig­ure that is pre­dicted to grow to more than eight mil­lion a year by 2030 with­out ur­gent and proac­tive ac­tion by gov­ern­ments, busi­nesses and civil so­ci­ety.

In Malaysia, of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics re­veal that smok­ing-re­lated deaths ac­count for about a fifth of all deaths an­nu­ally and more than 15 per cent of to­tal hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tions were the re­sult of smok­ing-re­lated ill­nesses.

While smok­ing rates have lev­elled off or de­clined in in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries, in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, to­bacco con­sump­tion con­tin­ues to rise. To­day, 80 per cent of all smok­ers live in coun­tries with low or mid­dle in­comes, and 60 per cent live in just 10 coun­tries. Eighty per cent of all deaths due to smok­ing oc­cur in low- or mid­dle-in­come coun­tries.

Malaysia has taken a num­ber of steps to dis­cour­age smok­ing. In 1976, leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced re­quir­ing warn­ings on cig­a­rette pack­ag­ing. In the 1980s, a smok­ing ban was im­ple­mented in pub­lic spa­ces. Since 1994, the sale of cig­a­rettes to per­sons un­der the age of 18 has been for­bid­den. And, since 1995, to­bacco ad­ver­tis­ing has ei­ther been re­stricted or out­lawed.

Malaysia, along with 180 coun­tries at last count, is a sig­na­tory to the WHO Frame­work Con­ven­tion on To­bacco Con­trol (FCTC), which it rat­i­fied and en­forced in 2005. The coun­try has set it­self two goals: to re­duce smok­ing preva­lence to 15 per cent or less by 2025, and to achieve a smoke­free Malaysia (less than five per cent) by 2045, as stated in the Na­tional Strate­gic Plan for To­bacco Con­trol 2015-2020.

How­ever, while to­bacco con­sump­tion among cer­tain seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion had fallen, the av­er­age age of the crit­i­cal mass of smok­ers has also fallen pro­gres­sively. And, with Malaysia’s de­mo­graphic tran­si­tion bulge in the 20- to 40-yearold co­horts, the prob­lem will only worsen if left unchecked.

For a long time, it has been the prac­tice to raise the cig­a­rette tax to con­tain the smok­ing “epi­demic”. But, re­gret­tably, this has a dele­te­ri­ous ef­fect on the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion of hard­core smok­ers and their fam­i­lies.

Spe­cific poli­cies and mea­sures at the na­tional and com­mu­nity lev­els that are re­in­forced at home, in school and at work are also needed to dis­cour­age new “re­cruits” and en­cour­age smok­ers to kick the habit.

That is why, on World No To­bacco Day on May 31, WHO and its part­ners will high­light the health and other risks as­so­ci­ated with to­bacco use and ad­vo­cate for ef­fec­tive pro­grammes and ac­tiv­i­ties to re­duce to­bacco con­sump­tion. This year’s theme is “To­bacco — a threat to de­vel­op­ment”. Ev­ery WHO mem­ber na­tion is urged to in­tro­duce and strengthen poli­cies and im­ple­ment ac­tions to pro­tect their cit­i­zens from the harms of to­bacco use and re­duce its toll on its econ­omy.


Vis­i­tors pass­ing ‘No smok­ing’ signs in Ta­man Gelora, Kuan­tan, re­cently. The govern­ment banned smok­ing in pub­lic spa­ces in the 1980s.

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