I THINK Marcus Osborne (“Tak Nak” shock and awe tactics fail — NST, Sept 19) is using outdated data in his report on the Health Ministry’s “Tak Nak” campaign.
I am providing updated data and international best practices to show why the ministry must continue with the shock tactics to wean smokers off smoking and prevent minors from starting.
Firstly, the National Health and Morbidity Survey (1996-2006) reported that the prevalence of smoking had declined in Malaysia and not increased, as claimed by Osborne.
Adult male smoking has dropped from 49.2 per cent (1996) to 46.4 per cent (2006), and female smoking from 3.5 per cent to 1.6 per cent.
There are now 2.73 million adult smokers in Malaysia and not five million, as stated by Osborne.
Secondly, in the 1990s, tobacco advertising and sponsorship activities were extensive in Malaysia and anti-smoking activities of the National Lifestyle Campaign were not significant.
Hence, the smoking habit increased in the 1990s. This started to show a decline after the government banned tobacco advertising and promotions (in 2003), increased tobacco tax and injected money into a sustained campaign.
Thirdly, the five-year RM100 million “Tak Nak” media campaign was stopped only after a year. Hence, it is not right for Osborne to claim that RM100 million was spent and the efforts were not effective.
In fact, the catch phrase “Tak Nak” was so effective in striking a chord with the public that it has been retained by the ministry in its current campaign.
A smoker looks at his 20 stick-pack 20 times, hence the shocking pictures on the pack are the most powerful way to inform the smoker of the hazards of smoking.
Osborne referred to the United Kingdom to support his “shocking images are ineffective” theory but omitted how it had worked well in other countries.
For example, Australia introduced its successful “every cigarette is doing you damage” campaign on television in the late 1990s, using shocking images and followed this through with gory pictures on its cigarette packs.
The shocking image campaign continues with modifications on TV till today and combined with other tough measures, Australia has reduced its smoking prevalence to 17 per cent.
Singapore carried out a similar shocking image campaign. It was followed by introducing shocking pictorial warnings on cigarette packs in 2004.
It was found that the gory images were indeed more effective: 28 per cent smoked fewer cigarettes, 25 per cent felt motivated to quit smoking, 14 per cent avoided smoking in front of children and 12 per cent avoided smoking in front of pregnant women.
Singapore today has the lowest smoking prevalence in the world, at 12.6 per cent.
A Malaysian survey on smoking among girls and young women aged between 13 and 25 (smokers and non-smokers) in 2007-2008 show-ed that more than 80 per cent of the respondents supported graphic warnings on cigarette packs.
Television, newspapers and billboards remain the main media to reach the masses.
To maintain the reduction in smoking, the ministry is on the right track to have the gory picture campaign on TV and newspapers to enhance the messages on the cigarette packs.
The Marlboro Man rode into the cities and kampung via TV, newspapers and billboards. When money is scarce for public education, this traditional media is still the best way to reach the masses.