Cultural shift needed to make smoking socially unacceptable, says don

The fast-forgotten campaign

 

Members of the public should assert their right to clean air by preventing smokers from lighting up in smoke-free areas, said Dr Mohd Haniki Nik Mohamed, head of the pharmacy practice department of the International Islamic University Malaysia.

Speaking at a World No Tobacco Day event at Pusat Komuniti Lembah Pantai yesterday, Dr Mohd Haniki said non-smokers should not wait for enforcement officers to take action when being exposed to second-hand smoke in non-smoking areas.

“They can tell a person to observe the rules and stop smoking; this is do-able and I do it all the time,” he claimed.

World No Tobacco Day fell on 31 May.

Agreeing with him was Ismail Abu Taat, the director of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya Health Department: “[The authorities] will then compound those who are puffing away at smoke-free areas,” he asserted.

Komunitikini was informed that last year, Ismail’s department conducted 15 “integrated operations” and 219 compounds were issued to smokers.

Between January and May this year, 10 operations were launched and 227 compounds were issued.

 

Ismail said that “smoker prevalence rates” in Malaysia stood at 22.8 percent, with almost 50 percent of the male population being smokers.

A 2006 report states that 1.9 percent of women and 8.7 percent of teenagers smoke, he added.

National cigarette bill: RM1.5bil a year

“Malaysians spend RM1.5 billion on cigarettes every year. Each individual smoker spends between RM200 and RM300 every month.

“This huge sum of money could be saved in a fixed deposit or invested in unit trusts,” he noted.

The tobacco industry in Malaysia is a lucrative one. Data from 2003 shows that even back then, the industry employed 190,000 people and contributed a huge 3 percent or RM1.7 billion to the GDP.

This was long before the taxes on cigarettes were drastically raised to three sen a stick last year.

“The gum”

Ismail (pictured, right) said Malaysia observes 12 articles of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires participating nations to, among other things, raise the price of tobacco products, regulate the contents of such product, ban tobacco advertising, offer help to addicted smokers and ban contraband cigarettes.

“We have also established quit-smoking clinics in all public clinics and hospitals in KL and Putrajaya to help the smokers,”

“Those who register for the program will be given quit-smoking gum for free, besides receiving clinical treatment,” he (right) said.

His department is also conducting a domestic anti-smoking campaign which targets its own staff.

“Since we launched it in June last year, we have successfully helped 30 out of 236 who registered to stop smoking,” he said.

He added that the secret to quitting is perseverance, social support and “the gum”.

 

Dr Sharifah Syed Abdullah, a drugs expert in the Health Ministry, said stopping smoking in Malaysiais hard because the government has “not enough confidence” to ignore tobacco tax revenue.

“The nation, or the world as a whole, still does not have the confidence to say no to tobacco industry despite knowing its harms.”

“This is due to their lack of confidence to replace the existing tobacco revenues with some other positive economies,”

“They should ban smoking totally if they are confidence enough,” she said.

However, the cities of New York and London have implemented successful smoking bans; in London’s case, this was done despite former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s attempts to renege on a smoking ban after concerted industry lobbying. In New York, the smoking ban was extended this year to open public spaces, such as its 1,700 parks and 14 miles of beaches, primarily to protect the well-being of babies and children.

“Smoking creates euphoria [from the drug nicotine] which keep nerves to constantly stimulated,” noted Dr Sharifah.

“However, this leads to fatigue of nerves and the smoker becomes tired and depressed, and then feels like lighting up another stick of cigarette again in a bid to stay stimulated,” she explained of the addiction.

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