7 March 2018:
Has someone dear to you passed away because of smoking? Well, know that you are not alone, as in Malaysia, sadly, about 20,000 people die yearly from diseases linked to their smoking habits.
Deputy health minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya has said that cigarettes or tobacco are the biggest threat and main risk factor for non-communicable disease which contribute to more than half a million deaths in the Asean region yearly, and the ministry has targeted to reduce number of smokers to 15 per cent by 2025, as quoted in Bernama.
While the Health Ministry has aimed to make Malaysia a smoke-free nation by 2045 and subsequently declared smoke-free zones in public areas last year, the reality is that the number of smokers continue to grow.
According to studies conducted under the National Health Morbidity Survey 2015, the prevalence of smoking is about 19.1 per cent. Whereas The Tobacco Atlas reports every year, 126,000 children and 4,178,000 adults continue to use tobacco each day, predicting that the tobacco death toll will grow with each passing year in our country.
As the smoking habit will never cease in some individuals, Malaysian Digest sat down with some local folks who shared their heart-rending stories on how cigarettes or tobacco had affected their lives directly and indirectly, in hopes their stories would serve as a wake-up call to those who have yet to fix their bad habit.
“I Lost My Father To Smoking”
We reached out to Ahmad Zuhir, whose late father had passed away due to his heavy smoking habit.
“My father had suffered from asthma ever since he was a child, but disregarding his illness, he started picking up smoking as a bad habit and it later severely damaged his airways,” he opened up to Malaysian Digest.
In 2006, few years before he fell into a coma, Zuhir’s late father was frequently admitted to the hospital for short stays for his respiratory disease. But two years later, he suddenly collapsed and stayed there for six months prior his passing.
“His right lung had worsened over time. The doctor said his heart had stopped beating for about six minutes and it was quite a miracle as to how he could still survive it.
“The first two weeks he was admitted in the ICU. And throughout his stay there, we as a family made sure our late father, who also went through four months on the ventilator, received around the clock care.
“He had difficulty in breathing and had to go through heart suction, he also had to use the nebuliser machine to help him breathe better. We took turns to take care of him,” Zuhir explained, adding that due to their late father’s weakened state, a rice tube was also inserted into his nose for that was the only way he would get his source of nutrients.
“He couldn’t eat any solid food. So most times, we would inject this special milk which contains all the health benefits into the tube and my late father needed to be fed four to six times per day.
“When my late father was allowed to be discharged, the process to care for him remained the same at home. My younger brother, Zamani and I had to quit our jobs and we both faced sleepless nights during those times,” he reminisced the painful moments.
After two years of suffering and being bedridden, their dear father passed away at age 66.
“I won’t deny how exhausted all of us were back then and it always became the reason arguments had erupted among us. But if anything, we would always find a way to place our late father as top priority.
“We were always together, our late father’s fate brought us closer together and I will cherish that forever,” the man in his late 30s recollected.
After enduring the struggles and challenges he and his family had to face due to his late father’s smoking habit, Zuhir’s advice to those who still choose to light a cigarette is, “Always think long-term about your life. Your bad decision will not only make things worse for you but for those you love.”
“I Almost Died From Smoking”
Mohd Patel, 70, shared with us how smoking would always be a routine to start off his day after having a packet of nasi lemak and mug of Nescafe, back in the day when he was a government servant at the Land and Mines Department (JKPTG).
“One day, as I was bending down to switch on my computer, I felt a surge of pain in my chest. I held on to my desk to stabilise myself and I felt sweat dripping down my forehead, while my shoulders stiffened.
“I quickly rushed to my boss’s office and asked for permission to go home but when my boss looked at my pale face, he told me ‘Patel, you are having a heart attack!’” he relayed of his obliviousness in failing to realise the seriousness of his condition at that time.
An ambulance was called and Patel was scheduled for a surgical operation to improve blood flow to his heart as the doctor discovered that his coronary artery was blocked.
Before his almost fatal collapse, Patel shared he had experienced a series of excruciating chest pains that made him suspect his health was at stake.
“I started smoking when I was nine, so the feeling of regret didn’t quite fit in with me as smoking just became a part of my life; a habit that made me who I am today,” said Patel who remains positive despite his traumatising experience.
However, since the incident, Patel who used to smoke between 20 and 40 sticks per day has learned from his mistakes.
“Right after my bypass operation, I felt healthier and a decade younger. And fast forward 25 years later, I have never touched a cigarette ever since,” he proudly admits, though confessed the withdrawal symptoms are not easy to deal with.
“Sometimes, that horrific episode still haunts me but I know I won’t go down that path ever again. As much as I would like to advice someone to quit smoking, the truth is, it’s easier for some, while it takes a life-threatening reason for others to do so.
“Therefore, my advice would be to know exactly what you are doing and prepare yourself for it. Otherwise, quitting could just be the death of you,” he remarked.
“I Made My Wife Suffer While I Smoked”
For Kamarulzaman Mochtar, 64, he started smoking since he was 15 and his chain smoking habit lasted until he reached his 40s, when he suffered from a heart attack.
“Throughout the time I smoked, my wife and relatives have expressed their concern for my health, but I never heed their warnings because I felt it was my health, so it shouldn’t be anyone’s concern,” he recalled.
Kamarulzaman’ shared that his wife had suffered from asthma all the while and relayed that sometimes her lungs were greatly affected, that she frequently coughs whenever he chain smokes.
But little did he know that that wasn’t the only suffering that he had put his wife through, as she used to tolerate not only his bad habit, but his foul body odour (BO) that stemmed from it as well.
“She used to casually remind me to reduce smoking but it wasn’t until when I quit smoking that my wife confessed to me that I had BO and smelt like a walking cigarette.
“So, for more than two decades, my wife has been coping/living with my foul odour. She confessed to me that even after I showered, the odour never washed away, and she sometimes had to turn her back against me (while we slept) because there are nights she couldn’t tolerate the stench.”
Kamarulzaman said it was hard for his wife to open up to him because she was afraid of offending him, however, “She would sometimes jokingly spray perfume on me.”
“I understand now where she was coming from, and I’ve been feeling guilty ever since I realised how my smoking habits and stench had tortured her for years without me realising it,” he revealed.
Calling For More Action Against Smoking
After hearing their stories, we asked these victims, what more needs to be done to help reinforce to Malaysians that smoking does more harm than good, not only to themselves, but to those they love.
Patel started by lauding the government’s initiatives in helping smokers quit their bad habit saying, “Today, we can even sought help from government clinics,” but believes the government can put more emphasis by advertising on the radio, television, or in the cinema.
“I believe a price increase on cigarettes would also help curb smoking,” he suggested.
Zuhir meanwhile said instead of just raising taxes to curb smoking especially for the younger generation, the government should prohibit selling any form of cigarettes in the country.
“If this is impossible due to the country’s income being compromised, they need to then enforce tougher laws on school children who are caught smoking because majority of smokers will start having this addiction since their schooling days and it can be hard for them to quit after,” he opined.
Kamarulzaman stressed that there needs to be more enforcement, as it would be pointless to designate smoke-free zones without the authorities enforcing it, because many people currently disregard it and get away with murder.
“In terms of age for smoking or buying cigarettes, I believe kids will always find a way to get their hands on it. But perhaps if authorities or relevant ministries could monitor the convenient stores for example, and allow them to sell minimum supplies only, then it could be a first step in prevention.
“People are aware of the dangers and harms of smoking, so the government should be more aggressive in advocating their no smoking campaigns. Get lung cancer survivors, people who lost loved ones due to smoking to give talks and share their experiences,” he highlighted.
“Above all, so long as the government still sees cigarettes as an inelastic demand, the number of Malaysians getting their hands on them will continue to rise. How can we be like most countries in Europe, when the government themselves find it challenging to ban smoking completely?” he posed the question.
In fact, a 35-year-old who started smoking since he was 15 and had quit after suffering from a severe asthma attack, shared with us, “Smoking is a habit rather than an addiction.”
“I hope the government would enforce a ban from cigarettes entirely. But if that is impossible, another alternative would be to limit the sale of it, for example, to special sellers only,” suggested the man who wishes to remain anonymous.
His advice to those struggling to quit? “Focus on the things that you love doing, for example sports, that’s what I did and it made it easier for me to forget about smoking. Soon enough you’ll realise, you’re better off without it.”
Source: Malaysia Digest