Towards a smoke-free M’sia

Clearing the air: (from left) Dr Rahimah, Dr Yee, Prof Dr Nazirah, Prof Dr Rusdi, cohort leader Tasnim Mohamad Rosli and UMCAS chief coordinator Assoc Prof Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin posing for a photo at the launch of the tobacco control campaign.

Tobacco control advocacy course for Universiti Malaya (UM) and UM Medical Centre (UMMC) staff should be made compulsory so that they can be agents of change for tobacco control.This is important as everyone plays a role in realising the National Strategic Plan for Tobacco Control, said UMMC director Prof Dr Nazirah Hasnan.

The plan aims to reduce the prevalence of smokers to 15% by the year 2025 and to achieve the endgame for tobacco in Malaysia by 2040, where the prevalence of smokers will be less than 5%, she said when launching the “Introduction to tobacco control” awareness campaign at UMMC on Jan 17.

Part of an effort to educate the young population on the dangers of smoking and vaping, the “Introduction to tobacco control” elective subject module was introduced in March last year with the first batch comprising 59 students from various non-health faculties.

The pioneer cohort had held a tobacco control exhibition for Star Media Group employees at Menara Star in June last year.

The module’s hands-on component is an important part of the module’s practical assessment. Together with an assignment, it makes up 60% of the students’ overall marks.

UM was the first public varsity to make such a module available to students across all programmes and to link up with the private sector to provide them with practical, real-world exposure so that they can become agents of change in their future workplace.

This year’s exhibition at UMMC marked the first time the campaign was held in a public venue.

“I hope this effort to relay the message of the dangers of smoking could be amplified not just to all UM students and staff, but also to the whole nation,” said Prof Dr Nazirah.

In Malaysia, the recent prevalence of smokers as reported in the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 is 21.3%.

It is estimated that 4.8 million Malaysians aged 15 and over are active smokers. It is also estimated that more than 27,000 Malaysians die yearly from smoking-related diseases.

The rate of smokers among Malaysian adults is not showing any significant reduction in the span of the last decade, Prof Dr Nazirah said in her speech.

UM Centre of Addiction Sciences (UMCAS) and UM Nicotine Addiction Research Group (NARCC) advisor Dr Rahimah Abdul Kadir said sensitising the students with advocacy work early on will transform them into exemplary non-smoking figures in the future when they enter the workforce after graduation.

An adjunct professor, Dr Rahimah, who is the module coordinator and lecturer, said the module supports the proposed Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill to create a smoke-free Malaysia.

“If we are to educate the general population and provide them with tobacco control knowledge, we need to reach every nook and corner of the nation.

“This course is one of the ways to do it,” she added.

NARCC coordinator Assoc Prof Dr Anne Yee said she hoped that the module would be adopted and implemented by all local and public universities in order to stamp out tobacco.

“Advocacy and good communication about the health and economic effects of smoking products are crucial to engage and empower the public, especially youths, on the solutions to this global tobacco epidemic,” she said in her welcoming speech.

UMCAS director Prof Dr Rusdi Abd Rashid said the 14-week course, which comprises cognitive, psychomotor and practical simulation components, was one of the outcomes from the “Grand Challenge” research grant that was given to NARCC in 2015.

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