Malaysia: Anti-smoking law to pack a real punch

By THARANYA ARUMUGAM – 24 August 2015, The New Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR: In an all-out war against smoking, the Health Ministry will raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products, including cigarettes, from 18 to 21. A new tobacco bill is being drafted to include a ban on displaying products and making it illegal to smoke in vehicles with children inside.

Tobacco products are regulated under the Food Act 1983. The Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004 under the Act requires a smoke-free environment and regulates tobacco advertising, promotion, sponsorship, packaging and labelling.

A ministry official said in an effort to better regulate tobacco use among Malaysians, especially the younger generation, tougher measures would be proposed in the bill.

“The ministry has, in fact, been lobbying for a tobacco act since 2005, when Malaysia became a party to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention for Tobacco Control on Dec 15, 2005.

“A draft of the tobacco act has actually been prepared since 2009. Unfortunately, it was not tabled in Parliament due to some circumstances,” she said, adding that the ministry had renewed its efforts to table the bill last year.

The official said smoking among teenagers and youths was a growing concern with most starting before age 21. Therefore, raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes could curb the habit considerably.

A research found more than 90 per cent of adult smokers began smoking in their teens or younger, while only a few people in their 20s or older chose to start smoking.

The Global School-Based Student Health Survey 2012 in Malaysia showed that 71 per cent of teenagers (among students who smoke) aged between 13 and 17 had tried a cigarette before age 14.

“A study by the National Poison Centre and Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance showed that some Malaysian children have tried smoking before age 13.

“Increasing the age of sale to 21 will reduce tobacco use among teens and youths, at a time when nearly all of them begin their smoking habit,” the official told the New Straits Times.

The NST also spoke to medical practitioners, who agreed that younger people were more sensitive to nicotine and could quickly become addicted than adults.

They said those who started smoking at a young age were more likely to continue as adults and also became the heaviest tobacco users. The

National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted on Malaysians aged 18 and below revealed that the prevalence of smoking among male and female youths in 1996 was 16.6 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively, which increased to 30.7 per cent and 4.8 per cent in 2006.

On a brighter scenario, the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) noted a drop in the prevalence of smoking among teenagers aged 13 to 15.

It was 20.2 per cent in 2003 and fell to 18.2 per cent in 2009. The percentage of male smokers dropped from 36.3 per cent in 2003 to 30.9 per cent in 2009. But the percentage of female smokers increased from 4.2 per cent to 5.3 per cent. GYTS 2009 showed that almost one in five students smoked cigarettes, while one in 10 used some form of tobacco.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2011 revealed that 23.1 per cent (4.75 million) of Malaysians aged 15 and above were smokers, of which 43.9 per cent (4.65 million) were men and one per cent (100,000) were women.

Based on the statistics, the official said the issue that needed to be addressed immediately was the smoking trend among youths.

She said friends and family were usually the influencing factors, as well as indirect promotions by the tobacco industry.

“Adolescents will start by experimenting. Sooner or later, they become addicted to nicotine. Awareness campaigns should be conducted as early as possible, starting from pre-school.”

She said parents should educate their children on the dangers of smoking and advise them not to be influenced by their peers. Parents should also warn their children on the severe consequences of nicotine addiction.

“If it is high, seek treatment. Otherwise, non-pharmacological methods like counselling may help. Do not punish them, but give them a chance to stop smoking.”

The official said children who smoke, on the other hand, should seek advice from school counsellors or medical professionals.

She advised those who have decided to quit smoking to first decide on a date to stop, seek medical advice, follow a treatment regime and maintain their cigarette-free stage.

“Generally, it is the willpower and proper treatment of addiction that lead smokers to quit.

“Once you are in the last stage of quitting, keep away from smokers. Learn to say ‘no’ to any offer of cigarettes from friends.

“Practise a healthy lifestyle, eat healthily, exercise regularly and manage your stress as it can induce smoking.”

Speaking on the benefits of quitting smoking, the official said it reduces the risk of getting heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), fertility problems, cataract, psoriasis, tooth loss, osteoporosis and Raynaud’s phenomenon (fingers turning white or blue when exposed to cold).

“It is never too late to stop smoking to enjoy health benefits. Even if you already have COPD or heart disease, your outlook is much better if you stop smoking,” she said, adding that one could save about RM180 monthly if they quit smoking.

Among the countries that have made it illegal to sell or give tobacco products to anyone below age 21 are Kuwait, Honduras and Sri Lanka.

In June, it was reported that Hawaii would become the first state in the United States to raise its smoking age to 21 next year because of a growing number of high school students becoming addicted to nicotine. 
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