PETALING JAYA: Taking heed of New Zealand’s bold new law to ban cigarette sales for future generations, Malaysian advocates against smoking are calling for similar regulations to be introduced here in order to take a firm stand to eliminate the addictive habit.
However, they said the law must be accompanied by stronger enforcement and comprehensive public education.
Ideally, Malaysia should start implementing stricter laws against cigarette use like what is happening in New Zealand, said Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) Prof Datuk Dr Lekhraj Rampal.
But for this to become a reality the government must have the political will to walk the talk, he said.
“All ministers, for one, must understand the problem and work as a team, including working closely with NGOs and community leaders to solve the problem of tobacco use,” he added.
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations’ Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah also supports for such a law to be introduced in Malaysia.
Muhammad Sha’ani, who is the organisation’s Tobacco Control coordinator, highlighted that under the National Strategic Plan for Tobacco Control 2021-2030, Malaysia already intends to introduce a smoke-free generation, where Malaysians born from 2009 onwards would refrain from smoking.
“Under the plan, there is already the aspect of creating a smoke-free generation. However, to make it legally binding, you need to amend the law to coincide with this mission.
“Most adult smokers started smoking as teens. Protecting children from becoming smokers is the easiest way to reduce smoking among the population,” said Sha’ani, noting that in order to do this, enforcement must be stepped up alongside social sanctions driven by good leadership.
New Zealand’s new anti-cigarette law is expected to be enacted by the end of the year and will be implemented in stages from 2024.
It aims to reduce its national smoking rate to 5% by 2025, and by 2027, those aged 14 and under will never be allowed to purchase cigarettes in their lifetime, effectively creating a “smoke-free generation”.
All for tighter smoking regulations like in New Zealand, the Parent Action Group for Education (PAGE) Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim said it was crucial that we put a stop to smoking as early as possible.
“It’s very difficult to break the smoking habit as you get older, and by then it could turn into something worse like cancer,” she said.
“I think the smoking habit actually starts at home because a lot of fathers smoke, despite all the dangers of smoking and high costs, and this influences their children.
“The situation worsens when children join the wrong peer group at school. It is important that we start somewhere.
“If you factor in the medical and hospital costs that are incurred due to smoking, it is best to curb it.”
National Parent-Teacher Association president Datuk Dr Mohd Ali Hassan said that if such a policy were to be implemented, it should be done on a trial basis first and not made compulsory yet.
Mohd Ali said that the test run could be carried out on a small scale, and then later only approved by the medical and professional communities.
“We also have to understand personal rights, what our government’s stand is on this issue, as the issue of personal rights is legally bound on such matters.
“I think we must understand the concept of individual rights, and we have to consider the rights of children to grow and have their choice (later on). The best option is to educate them rather than to make it compulsory through legal means,” he said.
Psychiatrist Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said criminalising the sale of cigarettes to entire generations might not be the only intervention available to eventually create a smoke-free society.
“Campaigns using role models to show that it is no longer ‘cool’ to smoke may work better than the outright ban on the sale to entire generation.
“Smoking among younger people is already losing its popularity, not so much because of restrictions in purchasing or terrifying public health campaigns, but because it is seen to be no longer attractive to smoke,” said Dr Mohanraj, who is also Malaysian Mental Health Association president.