Smokers start before age 18


Kick it out: A ‘Stop smoking’ poster in Kuala Lumpur.

PETALING JAYA: About 60% of smokers between the ages of 20 and 34 had their first puff before turning 18, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2023.

The study also found that there had been a 600% increase in the number of ecigarette users in the country over the past 12 years.

It pointed out that the prevalence of ecigarette or vape use among those in the 15–24 age group went up from 1.1% in 2011 to 8.6% last year.

The survey, which was released last week, was conducted by the Health Ministry’s Institute for Public Health in collaboration with the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Commenting on the findings, Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh, a health economics and public health specialist with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, said educating the public and tightening enforcement are important in reducing vaping and also underage smoking.

“Smoking is an epidemic in low- to middle-income countries, including Malaysia,” she said.

She added that Malaysia’s proximity to tobacco-producing countries and its own local industry had also resulted in a high prevalence of tobacco smokers, despite the trend being on the decline.

“Despite powerful tobacco control in the country, which is in accordance with the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, tobacco use has been rampant and at a dangerous level, especially among males above 15 years old in Malaysia.”

With the advent of innovative nicotine vaping products, which include heat-not-burn products, ecigarettes, tobacco pouches and snus, she said these products are introduced as a means to switch to a “lesser” evil and reduce the effects of tobacco combustion, tar and nitrosamines.

Due to the proliferation of illegal smoking products and a lack of proper regulation, vaping liquids may contain prohibited substances such as tetrahydrocannabinol, mushrooms, or even microorganisms, Dr Sharifa Ezat said.

She said this also increases the risk of Vaping Product, Use Associated Lung Injury (EVALI), which is similar to what is seen in the United States.

“Users may not be aware of the nicotine concentrations they are consuming, as many vape products are not properly labelled. The open vape system and multiple flavours have also been touted as possible causes of early-onset allergies, asthma and ‘wet lungs’,” she said.

She said Malaysia should have proper guidelines on vaping and stamp out illegal and contraband cigarettes and vaping.

There must also be proper initiatives to assist those wanting to quit smoking, including providing them with Nicotine Replacement Therapy, she said.

The Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) senior education officer NV Subbarow called for a total ban on smoking and vaping in public areas such as restaurants, night markets and even bus stops.

“No restaurant should be allowed to sell tobacco products, including cigarettes. There must be higher fines on smokers and restaurants that allow people to smoke on their premises,” he said.

Smoking, he said, should only be permitted about half a kilometre away from such places.

Signboards depicting the dangers of smoking must also be displayed at every restaurant, he said.

In addition, Subbarow advocated for the gazetting of non-smoking areas and the prohibition of tobacco product sales in all shops within these areas.

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