28 August 2017:
You know we live in confusing times when a product that kills six million people every year is offered as an alternative to its illicit counterpart.
Last week, a few news outlets reported that the Malaysian Government is considering bringing back “kiddie packs” – smaller packs of cigarettes. Kiddie packs (of 10), being more affordable, were designed to reel in ‘low consumption’ smokers, such as casual or social smokers, women, and children.
They have been banned by many countries worldwide — including Malaysia in 2010 — and rightfully so: “kiddie packs”, once legalised, are priced cheaply, packaged attractively, and shown prominently — all of which appeal to children.
Studies have shown that exposure to cigarettes, like how it is currently displayed in our coffee shops and convenient stores, combined with price discounts, increases youth smoking.
Experts worldwide also state that most adult smokers started when they were teenagers, and this is supported by our study of young smokers in 2016. Among 143 teenagers, 70 per cent started smoking between 12 to 15 years old. Close to 60 per cent did not even enjoy smoking, and had tried to quit without success.
These children also underestimated the addictive power of nicotine: close to 50 per cent said they didn’t think they would still be smoking in a year. Only 25 per cent thought it would be difficult for someone to quit once they start.
Do we really want to tempt more kids to experiment, start and sustain their addiction with premium kiddie packs? Do we want more victims to develop a lifetime addiction, or in other words, become lifelong customers of the tobacco industry?
Those arguing for kiddie packs would have us believe that anyone against these small packs support illicit cigarettes. But the alternative to illicit cigarettes is not legal cigarettes. ALL cigarettes are lethal.
The alternative to illicit and legal cigarettes is not starting in the first place. This is why we need to reduce society’s access to cigarettes (licensing), decrease their affordability (price hike) as well as their appeal (plain packaging).
The alternative to increased tax revenue if we have “kiddie packs” is enforcing tobacco control laws to safeguard the healthcare, development and economy of Malaysia. In the long run, tax payers and the Government will save millions on treating diseases caused or worsened by smoking, including 16 types of cancer, heart, lung, diabetes and mental illnesses.
The alternative to derailing every tobacco control measure proposed is putting the health of Malaysians first. It is rallying everyone to support the work – and deferring to the expertise as well as experience – of our Health Ministry and the World Health Organization.
This week, we will celebrate our 60th Independence Day, as well as our successful hosting of the SEA games. Don’t fall for the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument: it undermines your intelligence, the hard work of ministries who are enforcing tobacco control, and the will of those who want to – and can – quit.
Being pragmatic is having all sectors and industries – trade, customs, finance, education, youth, retailers, non-governmental – unite against an industry that has caused harm and taken lives for decades.
Doing better is a choice – something that is snatched from our children who picked up cigarettes, and just could not stop. Let us do better to protect our future generation and keep kiddie packs off our shelves.