Smoking trend persists despite health warnings

PETALING JAYA: Despite various measures taken by the government and NGOs to educate the public on the dangers of smoking over the years, there is no significant drop in the number of smokers in the country, says Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah.

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association (Fomca) Tobacco Control coordinator said the first National Health Morbidity Survey carried out in 1986 recorded 21.5% smokers among the Malaysian population compared to the next survey in 2019 which recorded 21.3%.

“The no smoking campaigns have had very little impact and were not seen through till the end,” said Muhammad Sha’ani.

He was commenting on the revelation by Deputy Health Minister Datuk Lukanisman Awang Sauni in Parliament on Thursday that lobbying from tobacco and vape industry players was the reason why the Generational Endgame component was excluded from last year’s anti-smoking Bill.

“If you want to reduce smoking prevalence, you have to prevent young people from smoking.

“The Generational Endgame Bill (GEG) component would have made an impact by stopping young people and children from starting the habit.

“So, now the work will get more difficult. Whether you are smoking a cigarette or vaping, it has a detrimental effect,” he told The Star. Malaysian Green Lung Association president Ho Rhu Yann said the government must take more aggressive measures to curb the use of vape and ecigarettes.

“The percentage of adults smoking remains stagnant, around 21% (4.88 million Malaysians).

“There is quite a significant increase of 27% in the number of adults vaping or using ecigarettes – from 1.1 million in 2019 to 1.4 million in 2022, based on a survey by Malaysian Vape Chamber of Commerce.”

Ho added there was an increase in nicotine consumption among the younger population from conventional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes and vapes.

The percentage of vape users among adolescents increased from 9.8% to 14.9%.

“The country is also afflicted with large economic losses when the government has to bear the medical cost of RM15bil when smokers get cancer, cardiovascular diseases and chronic lung diseases.

“Many say the government could earn a hefty amount from tobacco tax. In reality, the government has to spend at least four times the amount collected from tobacco tax,” Ho added.

Consultant Respiratory Medicine and Sleep Physician Dr Tan Wang Jie said cigarettes when lighted create more than 7,000 chemicals and at least 69 of them are known to cause cancer.

“There are multiple risks to our health when we smoke with the most common death being from ischemic heart disease followed by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

“More than 20,000 Malaysians die annually as a result of their smoking habit.

“It is estimated that 43% of men and 1.4% of women, above the age of 15, smoke in Malaysia,” said Dr Tan from Bagan Specialist Centre in Butterworth, Penang.

He added the most dreadful adverse effect of vaping would be the product use associated with lung injury (EVALI).

The key risk factor for EVALI is use of an ecigarette containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and/or vitamin E acetate.

“I had a patient in his 20s with no past medical illness referred to me with a three day acute history of fever, breathlessness, cough and respiratory failure requiring non-invasive ventilation in the ICU.

“Chest radiograph and blood tests showed pneumonia. The patient picked up vaping due to peer pressure.

“I urge youngsters to be aware of the serious complications related to ecigarette,” Dr Tan said, adding it is imperative to review the GEG approach to promote a non-smoking culture among youth.

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