SAYING NO TO SMOKING
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.