Be structured in kicking the smoking habit

TWO of my immediate family members died of lung cancer in the past five years, due to smoking. The misery they went through during treatment, especially in their final days, was horrific.

On top of that, their family members were subjected to emotional and physical distress. People like myself watched helplessly as our loved ones slipped away.

Smoking kills and that’s a scientific fact. In Malaysia, it is the third most common type of cancer, with about 95% of patients diagnosed at stages three and four. Smoking is the primary reason for lung cancer in the country.

According to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity survey, more than 27,200 of Malaysians deaths annually are related to smoking. The report found the prevalence of smoking among Malaysians aged 15 and above to be 21.3%, with an estimated 4.8 million currently puffing away. The prevalence of smokers in the 15-19 age group was 12.3%.

Statistically, lung cancer alone is more lethal than Covid-19, where the cumulative death toll for the latter over the past two years is above 31,000.

So, when Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently announced that the government plans to table a Tobacco and Smoking Control Act in the next Dewan Rakyat sitting, I was elated. We certainly need tougher regulations on these cancer sticks.

Khairy has also said he is in favour of Malaysia adopting the New Zealand model of banning the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2008. Kudos to the minister!

But I also wish to caution Khairy against being overzealous with the drive to get Malaysians to kick the habit. I’d go out on a limb and say all adult smokers in Malaysia are aware of the health hazards. What they are struggling with is the addiction to the “high” cigarettes afford them.

So, if the government cracks down too hard and too fast on smoking, it will drive the habit underground, making it almost impossible to regulate and monitor. So, a phased-out plan is more desirable. This includes giving leeway, or complementing the move with harm reduction products like nicotine patches, heated tobacco devices or vaping that does not contain highly toxic substances.

At the end of the day, we want Malaysians to stay healthy and kicking the smoking habit is one sure way to achieve this. But let’s do this in a structured manner where we can mitigate the blowback.

Otherwise, our best intentions will only end up in smoke. – January 27, 2022.

* Rachel Soon reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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