New tobacco-free policy for UM

IN line with the new Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill slated to be tabled in Parliament next month, Universiti Malaya (UM) has become the country’s first public varsity to introduce a “comprehensive” tobacco-free policy on campus.

UM vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Mohd Hamdi Abd Shukor said smoking on campus has been banned since 2004 but there is now a need for a more comprehensive tobacco control policy which not only bans tobacco, but also the use of all types of smoking products.

“It is our responsibility to protect the health and well-being of everyone on campus by ensuring that our environment is clean, healthy and free of all forms of smoking products including ecigarettes – which research has shown to be dangerous for health,” he said, adding that the country’s oldest varsity is committed to implementing the new policy for its holistic development, and the benefit of its students, staff and visitors.

The policy, he said, supports those who want to quit smoking; bans all forms of advertising, sponsorship, distribution and sale of tobacco and smoking products; and prohibits the varsity’s staff, researchers and students from accepting financial contributions or gifts from the tobacco and smoking product industry.

Formulated by a task force led by UM consultant public health physician Assoc Prof Dr Farizah Mohd Hairi, the policy, which is aligned with the Malaysian Food Act 1983 and the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004, also requires that the smoking status of new students and staff be documented and the individuals referred to quit smoking clinics.Work on the policy, said Dr Farizah, had been initiated by the varsity’s Nicotine Addiction Research & Collaboration Group (NARCC) over a decade ago.

“Although the task force was set up in November last year, this policy is a culmination of years of research by the group,” Dr Farizah said, adding that the policy includes cigarette smoking and any smoking devices such as electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn tobacco products.

Launching the policy in conjunction with World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on May 31 was Deputy Health Minister I Datuk Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali, who reminded parents to set a good example for their children.

“Some parents get their children to buy cigarettes for them so don’t be angry if your kids follow in your footsteps,” he said, adding that the rising popularity of smoking products like ecigarettes is worrying.

“Children puffing away in front of their parents is rude and disrespectful. As a parent, I am sure you would be worried to see your kids sucking on pen-like devices that are actually ecigarettes.

“It is not that they don’t know it’s bad but because they are addicted, they just cannot stop,” he said, lauding the varsity for its seriousness in wanting to shield the future generation from the negative effects of smoking and in helping students who want to kick the habit.The half-day event held at UM, which included a forum, a poster and an essay contest for primary pupils, and an exhibition, saw the participation of pupils, parents and tobacco control advocates.

Parent Hassan Hamat, who attended the event, said the rampant use of ecigarettes among primary pupils is worrying.

Hassan, a disciplinary teacher at a school in Petaling Jaya, said he had confiscated devices that looked like pens and had even caught boys and girls as young as 15 vaping in the toilets.

“When I questioned them about where they got the devices from, they said the devices did not belong to them or that the devices were their parents’.“It is clear that they were lying because you can get these from sundry shops for as low as RM10,” he said, urging parents to check their children’s bags regularly.

Children, he added, may behave well at home but in school, they have peer pressure to contend with.

“Don’t just drop your children off at school and treat it like a nursery or daycare centre. Parents must know what’s happening.”

Later at a separate event, Dr Noor Azmi joined Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon in marking the WNTD at SJK(C) Chong Wen, Kuala Lumpur.

Dr Noor Azmi said the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill to ban smoking activities and the possession of all forms smoking products, including ecigarettes, for those born after 2005, is being finalised by the Attorney General’s Chambers.

Over 27,000 Malaysians die every year from tobacco-related illnesses, he said, adding that the prevalence of smoking has consistantly hovered between 20% and 22% of the population – which is not good.

Dr Mah said the Education Ministry will fully support the Bill.

“This is in line with the recommendation of the Health Ministry to implement a generational endgame for tobacco control,” he said, adding that the young generation must be aware that smoking causes death.

“It is not just addiction and health problems that we have to contend with, but smoking also endangers our lives and those around us,” he added.

He said over seven million deaths occur by direct tobacco usage while 1.2 million more are from passive smoking.

A former medical practitioner, Dr Mah said tobacco usage causes chronic illnesses including heart and lung disease, and over 20 types of cancer.

Malaysian Tobacco Control Council president Prof Datuk Dr Lekhraj Rampal said the proposed Tobacco and Smoking Control Act is long awaited.He said it has been postponed for nearly four Parliament sittings.

“It is time for the Members of Parliament and Adun to be united.

“We need a whole-of-government approach,” he said, adding that community leaders must also be roped in to make this a success.He said the council, which consists of 38 non-governmental organisations and higher education institutions, also wants an immediate ban on the sale of vaping and ecigarette products to teenagers.

Prof Rampal also suggested that taxes collected from the sale of tobacco products be used to help smokers who want to quit.

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