4 June 2017:
THIS year the World No Tobacco Day has adopted the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as its theme: “Tobacco: A threat to development.”
The Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control & Health seeks to protect women and children from tobacco and finds that smoking is threatening the rights of this group.
Tobacco use is hampering Ma-laysia from attaining SDG Goal No. 5: “Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.”
The industry targets women and teenage girls by implying that smoking enhances gender equality, glamour and success.
Cigarette packs shaped like little lipstick boxes are sold in Ma-laysia to target teenage girls.
Studies show that adolescent girls take up smoking because they think it will help them control or lose weight.
For women, it is a huge mistake to believe that smoking like men signifies gender equality.
Medical evidence shows that women have a higher risk of succumbing to smoking-related diseases. Cancers among women are on the increase in Malaysia.
People are aware that smoking causes lung cancer.
But, most people do not know that second-hand smoke increases risks of cancer, too. Women and children are most vulnerable to this health risk.
Money spent on cigarettes means less money for food, education and healthcare.
Studies show that in poor households, especially when a breadwinner smokes, spending on tobacco products often represents more than 10 per cent of household expenditure.
Women often do the shopping for the family.
They should be empowered to choose food over tobacco.
One pack of cigarettes, at the minimum price of RM10, can buy 25 eggs, four loaves of bread, 5kg of rice, 1kg of ikan kembung or some vegetables.
A premium pack of RM17 can buy even more food, which makes a huge difference in the diet of poor households.
Women are challenged daily on their right to breathe clean air or work in a smoke-free place. Many struggle to make their homes smoke-free.
Among the female workforce, many continue to be subject to second-hand smoke, especially in small working places like coffee shops, hotels and lounges.
According to one study, about 30 per cent of women are exposed to smoking at their workplaces.
Women and girls in Malaysia have a long way to go in defending their rights to breathe clean air.
When exposed to second-hand smoke, it is common to see women and girls wave away the smoke to show their disgust.
Many are hesitant to ask smokers, usually men, to stop.
The government can protect the public and empower women by making public and workplaces 100 per cent smoke-free.
The right to breathe clean air is a right that must be protected.
When it comes to smoke-free places, the norm should be that public and workplaces are declared smoke-free.
Datuk Hatijah Ayob, President, Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control & Health