Published: Sunday June 23, 2013
BY ISABELLE LAI
KUALA LUMPUR: Banning cigarette pack displays at point-of-sale places, including convenience stores, is a vital move towards changing the perception that smoking is a normal practice, especially for children, said the South-East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.
Its director, Bungon Ritthipakdee, said colourful displays, which were very attractive to children, remained the principal avenue to promote smoking both to smokers and non-smokers.
“Displayed with candy, newspapers and other things, tobacco products are seen as ‘normal products’. By banning the displays, the Government is sending a strong signal to society that they are not normal products, but things that kill,” she said after a roundtable discussion organised by Seatca and Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health (MyWatch).
Bungon praised Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam’s recent announcement that a slew of reforms were in store to heighten tobacco control, including banning direct and indirect promotion of tobacco products and reducing nicotine content in cigarettes by 2015.
She said banning pack displays at point-of-sale would plug a “gaping loophole” in tobacco control policies, adding that research had proven it would be able to reduce the number of smokers.
The discussion focused on the theme Protect Our Children: Turn Off The Toxic TAPS (tobacco advertising, promotion and sales), with MyWatch president Datuk Hatijah Ayob stressing the need to cut off tobacco exposure for children.
She called on Malaysia to fully implement the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, pointing out that non-smokers, especially women and children, also fell victim to passive smoking.
Malaysia’s 2011 Global Adult Tobacco Survey revealed that smoking prevalence among adults aged 15 and above were 23.1% or some 4.74 million people.
WHO’s Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore representative Dr Graham Harrison said every effort must be made to stop children from becoming exposed to tobacco products as well as help smokers give up the habit.
“Tobacco companies have to replace the six million people a year who die from using their products. They have a very strong, economic reason to ensure smoking is seen as the cool thing to do,” he said.
Health deputy director-general (public health) Datuk Dr Lokman Hakim Sulaiman urged society’s “silent majority” to rise up with a clear anti-smoking stance to aid government and NGO efforts to fight the social disease.
He said the ministry would have discussions with the Finance Ministry on increasing the tax on tobacco products, adding that the ministry was currently studying the requirements and implementation process, as well as the effects of plain cigarette packaging as done in Australia.