THE adoption of tobacco harm reduction (THR) strategies can be a game changer in managing the smoking prevalence in Malaysia as revealed in the Datametrics Research & Information Centre’s (DARE) recent report, Clearing the Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction.
Efforts such as regulating and encouraging smokers to switch to vape as a less harmful alternative can reduce the smoking population in Malaysia to some four million by 2025.
It is also estimated that vape would help the country reduce its healthcare spending on treating smoking-related diseases by RM1.3bil in 2025 alone.
At DARE, we derived this data using calculation models and studies by credible international agencies such as Public Health England and Cochrane Review.
The findings clearly show that Malaysia will be able to reap tangible results and develop sensible regulations for less harmful products, which is important to help the country achieve this agenda.
As a start, DARE recommends that Malaysia differentiates tobacco products from less harmful products such as vape, which have proven scientifically as a less harmful alternative and is effective in helping smokers to quit by switching.
Steps must also be taken to ensure that these less harmful products are regulated to ensure high standards of manufacturing, safety, product information, quality and efficacy.
In developing regulations, DARE recommends a risk-proportionate approach, with regulators imposing restrictions in proportion to the risk to health posed by the product.
For example, traditional cigarettes would have warnings for smokers, but vaping products should have subtle messages about the value of switching.
A perception survey was conducted in September 2021 to curate local data for the report. It revealed that some 80% of Malaysians believe that the adoption of THR strategies in the country will help smokers quit traditional cigarettes as they will be able to switch to less harmful alternatives.
An overwhelming majority (95%) said the Malaysian government must be involved in implementing THR strategies in the country.
The findings from this report are timely as Malaysia is at the cusp of introducing regulations for vape and follows the implementation of a taxation framework, which was announced during the tabling of the 2022 Budget.
Malaysia must continue the existing programmes to reduce its smoking prevalence. However, leaders must also be open to exploring new science-based solutions that have proven to be effective in countries such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
We must look at the trends in our country and determine the best strategies that can be developed into a framework that fits our reality.
With a concerted effort, we can reduce the demand for tobacco, minimise harm, reduce costs to healthcare systems and ultimately, save lives.
The full report can be downloaded from DARE’s website.
Datametrics Research & Information Centre (DARE)