KUALA LUMPUR: Tobacco companies have aggressively stepped up their promotions to counter the Government's RM100mil anti-smoking campaign that was launched early this year.
Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the companies have resorted to various sales tactics to entice the people, especially youths, to take up smoking and continue the habit.
The tactics, he said, included high-profile peddling using pretty women to promote cigarette sales at functions and events.
The peddlers, usually dressed in colours synonymous with the cigarette brand but without the logo, were part of the companies' tactics to counter the Cabinets blanket ban on cigarette advertisements.
Advertisements with pictures of cigarettes or those that only depict expensive accessories or lavish lifestyles sharing the same cigarette brand and logo, have been banned.
These companies are big players in the industry and at least one of them has given out scholarships to the young to promote their image.
The Cabinet discussed the matter at its meeting last week, Dr Chua said.
He said two television stations were involved in the subtle promotion of cigarettes and the relevant ministry had been asked to look into the matter.
Local authorities should be more sensitive in approving applications for billboards which promote smoking in a subtle manner, he added.
Dr Chua reminded the people that smoking was the leading cause of cancer in the country and the ministry estimated about 10,000 Malaysians died from smoking annually.
Smoking also caused 90% of all cancers besides being a major cause of stroke and coronary heart disease.
A ministry survey in 1996 showed that about 25% of Malaysians aged 18 and above were smokers.
Dr Chua said the Government was trying to reduce the number of smokers, especially among young females, who recorded a higher rate of addiction than the males.
The anti-smoking campaign, launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in February, would receive a yearly allocation of RM20mil for the next five years to disseminate scientific findings on the dangers of smoking and produce anti-smoking advertisements.
A random survey showed that shops, especially eateries, resorted to displaying cigarettes prominently using big glass cabinets after posters with or without pictures of cigarettes were banned.
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