‘Say yes to anti-smoking law’

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s plan to ban smoking and vaping among future generations is a bold move, but the challenge lies in getting all parliamentarians to support the proposed Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill.

With the bill scheduled to be tabled in the current Parliament sitting, health experts as well as advocacy groups have banded together to urge MPs to support the proposed law, dubbed the Generational End Game.

Leading the call to end the smoking and vaping habit is Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who posted a clarion call on Facebook.

“Act now before it’s too late. Smoking or vaping is an immoral habit and should not be emulated. Stop your addiction and save the next generation,” he wrote.

Heeding the call was a group of 43 health and consumer rights non-government organisations (NGOs), who urged MPs not to let slip the once-in-a-lifetime chance to produce a smoke-free generation.

“If we had had the same evidence on the hazards of smoking in the 1960s... tobacco wouldn’t have become a substance widely available to everyone,” said National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) president Datuk Dr Saunthari Somsundaram.

“There would have been curtailments, with rules and regulations in place to make sure smoking was not widespread.

“We have the opportunity now. Let’s be brave and support this generational end game. We are talking about supporting and protecting generations to come.

“If the MPs do not pass this law now, they must ask themselves again in 20 years’ time. Realise that it was your legacy that you were not brave enough to do something that you know is right and is evidence-based,” Dr Saunthari told a press conference here yesterday.

The NCSM is one of the 43 NGOs who are calling on MPs to support the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill.

Others include the Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health (MyWatch), Drug Prevention Association of Malaysia (Pemadam), Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS), National Kidney Foundation, the Malaysian Association of Adolescent Health, and the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP).

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MPS president Amrahi Buang said nicotine addiction is very difficult to quit, and imposing a generational ban on smoking will prevent more people from falling into the habit.

“The smoking habit is like a deep pit that is very difficult to get out of. And when one is addicted to cigarettes, we know that it could then lead to drug addiction.

“So, we must prevent a whole generation from falling into this,” said Amrahi.

Addressing concerns that a smoking ban would result in an increase in the illicit cigarette trade, NCSM managing director Dr M. Murallitharan said data has shown that such a scenario would not produce more smokers.

“The tobacco industry claims that 80% of cigarettes in the market now are illicit. While we do not really believe it is that high, we take their word for it.

“Therefore, despite the high number of illicit cigarettes available in the market, our data has shown that the number of smokers in the country has not increased.

“One of the reasons why we do not have a high number of smokers is because of existing laws on smoking.

“So, if you put in a law that bans people born after 2005 from smoking, we can control the habit.

“You may not be able to get 100% as some will try to circumvent the ban, but we will still be able to block a large number of people from starting to smoke,” said Dr Murallitharan.

Pemadam secretary-general Burhanuddin Disa called on MPs who are on the fence about the bill to speak with health advocacy groups.

“We are ready to explain to MPs at any time of the day. Meet us over coffee and we can explain. We need to support this generational endgame plan,” he added.

The proposed Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill aims to ban the sale of cigarettes and vape products to those born on Jan 1, 2005 and onwards in a move to reduce the number of smokers in the country.

The Health Ministry said tobacco use contributed to 22% of cancer deaths in the country.

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