Malaysia: Great oped that smoking related disease and death does not spare famous personalities

The ‘unlucky draw’, New Straits Times, Chan Wai Kong, 22 April 2016

The hand of death from the evil empire headed by Darth Tobacco has struck down yet another famous man.

Johan Cruyff, one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen, died recently of lung cancer at 68 after years of smoking.

Like many superstars from sport, music, art and others, the life of the Flying Dutchman was snuffed out by nicotine poison.

Cruyff wasn’t the first, nor will he be the last, in this man-made tragic cycle of life. Look around you… relatives, colleagues, friends or acquaintances are succumbing to smoking-related diseases.

Even smart men who knew of the perils of smoking couldn’t stay away from the dark side of Darth Tobacco.

Socrates, who captained Brazil at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, was a doctor, and yet, became a two-pack-a-day man. It, inevitably, led to his death at 57.

Louis Armstrong, who sang What a Wonderful World in his wonderfully dulcet tones, was known for advertising for Camels, and died of a smoking-related heart attack.

All that irony as you imagine Armstrong crooning about a world redolent of fresh air: “I see trees of green, red roses, too. I see them bloom, for me and you. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…”

I grew up admiring rugged iconic cowboys, like the Marlboro Man who appeared in tobacco ads. But now, I feel sorry for them, as the four actors who played the Marlboro Man — Wayne McLaren, David McLean, Dick Hammer and Eric Lawson — have all fallen to the smoking gun held by Darth Tobacco.

McLaren, who became an anti-smoking activist, famously said on his deathbed: “Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof.”

Smoke gets in your eyes. The world sheds a tear for them: famous people, ordinary folk, people from all walks of life suffering and dying from smoking-related illnesses.

Poetry describes tobacco as a great evil to humanity, that tobacco was designed to poison and destroy mankind. You are deadly wrong to treat smoking as one of life’s small pleasures and that a few sticks won’t kill you.

For decades, health authorities across Planet Earth have found it so hard to curb Darth Tobacco and its agents who market the cancer sticks — killers that travel in packs of 10 and 20.

According to the World Health Organisation, the tobacco scourge causes six million deaths a year (more than five million smokers and 600,000 non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke).

In our country, the Health Ministry and its ally, the Malaysian Medical Association, are losing the war as numerous anti-smoking programmes have not been effective in turning the tide.

More Malaysians than ever are lighting up to dance with the Devil, leading to more than 20,000 deaths a year. And the casualties should be much higher as many-related deaths go unreported.

This is mainly due to poor knowledge on the dangers of smoking among the working poor or low-income group with limited education.

Smokers think it is just a lot of hot air from the non-puffers about clogged arteries and cancerous cells. Sure, you smoke today, you won’t die tomorrow, but the past will eventually catch up with you, as effects are often seen after 10, 20 and 30 years later.

By the time you live to regret it, it is too difficult to kick the habit or too late as you await a painful lingering death from lung cancer.

Amid the grim spectre, the smoking scene in Malaysia is changing dramatically, but not for the better.

Another dark force has risen as a rival to Darth Tobacco’s RM7.8 billion a year evil empire locally. Here come the Darth Vapers, who are armed with electronic cigarettes that are just as sinister and harmful.

Illegal cigarettes or smuggled cigarettes, have done what no anti-cigarette campaigns could do, causing tobacco giant, British American Tobacco (BAT) to shut down its factory in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

BAT, whose products include Dunhill, Peter Stuyvesant, Pall Mall and Benson & Hedges, admitted that cheap illegal cigarettes and steep “sin taxes” have affected its sales.

As a result, BAT had decided to stub out its manufacturing operations in Malaysia, but business will go on as usual as tobacco products will be imported.

This doesn’t mean the evil of smoking has been filtered or reduced in any way. Not when more and more smokers are going for “cheaper alternatives”.

Meanwhile, Darth Tobacco’s hand of death will seek out more than 20,000 Malaysians annually. If you are a smoker, you will be part of the “unlucky draw”. NST deputy sports editor Chan Wai Kong sees life differently after waking up from a coma following a car accident in Vancouver