THERE are now new laws to discourage, limit and penalise teen smokers. Youths under 18 caught smoking may be fined up to RM1,000 while those selling them cigarettes may be fined up to RM10,000 or jailed for a maximum of two years.
Signs of a more determined effort to stub out teen smoking are clearly in place. The big question is whether these moves will amount to anything more than signs.
There have been laws against smoking in several places before, but the problem has been in their proper enforcement. So long as there are irresponsible smokers and apathetic enforcement officers, even the best-intentioned laws will remain only in the statute books.
Sometimes, there is an initial spurt of activity to enforce new laws, perhaps to impress observers, but this interest on the part of the authorities has been known to fade quickly away.
Thus, consistency in enforcement is another necessary item.
There is a long and growing list of deadly diseases linked to smoking, as more becomes known about the negative side-effects of the habit.
These health problems affect smokers as well as those around them, and also society and the Government in spiralling healthcare costs.
All the problems associated with adult smoking also apply to teen smoking, but more profoundly and seriously.
If left unchecked, we shall only see succeeding generations of Malaysians succumb to painful and wasteful deaths.
What is already known about teen smoking in this country does not make for comfortable reading.
Some 3.6 million people or nearly 15% of the entire population are teen smokers, while at least half of smokers die from smoke-related illnesses.
Apologists for smoking used to mouth the old nonsense about “free choice” to smoke.
The fact has always been that other people around them, a majority that includes friends, colleagues and family members, had no choice to avoid their second-hand smoke.
In more developed countries where health awareness tends to be higher, there has been a general decline in smoking rates. Tobacco companies then had to shift more of their product abroad to developing countries, where high smoking rates now symbolise a Third World condition.
It is bad enough to profit from adult smoking. To not do everything possible against teen smoking plumbs the depths of social irresponsibility.
Might tobacco companies, with some sense of responsible corporate citizenship, contribute to the Government’s efforts to stop teen smoking?
Let this be a standing challenge to them.
As for the authorities and society at large, the challenge is not an unfamiliar one: will we really make sure the effort succeeds this time?
Whether it succeeds or fails will help to define us as a society.
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