‘We want smoking banned’

Mini football: Using plastic bottles and a ping pong ball, a medical student explains why smokers get breathless when playing sports.

IT is very sad that some parents are supportive of their children’s vaping habit when they should be going all out to discourage it.

Sharing how a man had gone to school to “scold a teacher” for confiscating his child’s ecigarette, or vape, Universiti Malaya (UM) Nicotine Addiction Research and Collaborating Group (NARCC) deputy coordinator Assoc Prof Dr Nur Amani@Natasha Ahmad Tajuddin said the father was angry as the device cost RM450.

“He went to the school in KL at 7pm and gave the guard a hard time. He demanded to see the teacher but it was after school hours.

“In another incident, a primary pupil was vaping in the school bus but the driver did nothing.

“As adults, we should know better. We have a duty to set a good example and to prevent students from picking up this unhealthy habit,” she said.

Quoting a survey conducted as part of the UM “Generational Endgame” (GEG) programme held at a secondary school in Setapak on July 25, Dr Nur Amani, who is a family medicine specialist and senior lecturer at the varsity, said among a group of 13-year-olds who admitted to having smoked, a whopping 64% said they tried ecigarettes, with 13% having experimented with both tobacco cigarettes and ecigarettes.

Half said they started smoking after being influenced by friends while the remaining 50% said they were just experimenting.

The survey, which saw 85 out of 100 Form One students responding, is a strong indicator that more awareness and advocacy programmes are needed in schools, said Dr Nur Amani.

“Almost 30% thought vaping is safer than cigarette smoking and said that ecigarettes do not contain nicotine – which is not true. Nicotine is added to keep the kids hooked on vaping.

“Most ecigarette liquids contain nicotine, which is a Class C poison that can only be procured and dispensed by licenced pharmacists and medical practitioners,” she said, noting that the good news is that a whopping 73% wanted smoking banned in Malaysia.

The GEG programme was facilitated by 35 final year primary care medicine students as part of their course.

The aspiring doctors prepared posters and experiments to explain the dangers of smoking and vaping.

“They came up with a lung model made from a balloon and used plastic bottles stuffed with newspapers to demonstrate the ill effects of smoking on the lungs. “Their creative hands-on activities enabled the young audience to participate, which is an interesting and interactive way to get an important message across.

“The secondary students were also given anti-tobacco newspaper clippings to read and do a presentation to educate their peers.

“This activity was to encourage them to read newspapers and to make sure that they understand current health issues, particularly the importance of the GEG,” she said, adding that the GEG programme also provided the varsity’s medical students with an opportunity to give back to the community.

“A programme like this allows them to learn leadership skills and teamwork to prepare them for the working world after their final MBBS exams.

“The aim is to develop a continuous pool of UM advocators who can conduct peer-to-peer programmes to combat the use of tobacco products, and to help teenagers quit smoking and vaping.

“We want our doctors to play an important role as agents of change in the community,” she said. The GEG awareness programme was also conducted for 450 Years Four to Six pupils at a primary school in Petaling Jaya on Aug 1.

With the GEG programme, Dr Nur Amani hopes to make children more aware of the dangers of smoking and vaping.

“We want them to understand that vaping is not a safer alternative to smoking.

“Many who were exposed to the smoking habit of their parents or guardians have a history of admission or emergency room visits because of asthma.

“They are afraid of telling their family to stop smoking and want to learn more about how they can help their parents quit the habit.

“This is very encouraging and it is something we will include in our upcoming sessions.

“We will be visiting five more schools around the Klang Valley in the coming months. If we can secure a grant, the programme can be expanded,” she said.

The GEG programme is part of the NARCC and UM Community Engagement Centre (UMCares) student outreach initiative in support of the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, also known as the GEG law.

The Bill was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat last month and referred to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) for further scrutiny on Aug 2.

Under the proposed Bill targeted for implementation by 2025, children born from Jan 1, 2007, onwards are prohibited from smoking, buying or possessing any type of smoking products, including ecigarettes and vape products, even after they reach the age of 18.

Shopkeepers and cigarette vendors will also be barred from selling such products to this group.

The Bill will be brought back to the Dewan Rakyat in October.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 estimated that 4.9 million Malaysians aged 15 and over are smokers.

If the GEG is passed, the percentage of Malaysian smokers is estimated to be less than 5% by 2040.

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