Survey calls for government to regulate tobacco alternatives differently

Survey calls for government to regulate tobacco alternatives differently

EARLIER this year, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin proposed the Generation End Game (GEG) plan, which would ban tobacco and smoking products for those born in 2005 and after.

Just this week, he said that the government had decided to push the limit to 2007, allowing two more years for “community education, a robust implementation plan and to ramp up enforcement.”

The GEG plan, otherwise known as the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, will be put to a vote in the Dewan Rakyat this coming week. If passed, it would make Malaysia the first country to ban smoking and prohibit the ownership of tobacco and vape products by those born after 2007.

So far, the plan has sparked a lot of conversation on social media, with some rooting for the bill’s implementation, and others taking a more cautionary stance. There were also parties who were vocal in asking the government to rethink the whole approach of prohibition.

WHAT MALAYSIANS WANT

A recent online survey conducted by Philip Morris involving 1,715 respondents showed that 83 per cent of respondents believed smoking to be a serious public health problem.

Despite that, Malaysia’s smoker prevalence has remained relatively flat over the past 10 years.

Since 2011, the country’s smoker population has hovered around four to five million, and has not gone down significantly. In fact, the number remained at around 4.8 million, according to a 2020 report to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

While most Malaysians are aware of the harms of smoking, it is clear that efforts and initiatives by the government to fully curb the habit have not been successful over the years.

All this leads to the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill — will it have a different level of impact compared to its predecessors?

The online survey found that 77 per cent of respondents were aware that the government intends to ban Malaysians born in and after 2007 from buying cigarettes and tobacco products.

The interesting thing is that not every Malaysian agreed with the method or approach, which in this case is complete prohibition of tobacco and smoke-free alternative products.

GIVE ALTERNATIVES, NOT A BLANKET BAN

70 per cent of respondents said that the government should consider the role of smoke-free alternatives to help make this country smoke-free.

63 per cent of respondents believed that these products should be regulated differently if proven to reduce risks to smokers. Similarly, 64 per cent of respondents also thought that adult smokers should have access to innovations and information regarding alternative tobacco products, so they can make better choices.

The main problem with cigarettes is that it burns tobacco, resulting in tar and carbon monoxide, which can lead to various smoking-related diseases. In fact, smoking is the primary risk factor of cancer in Malaysia and accounts for 22 per cent of cancer deaths.

On the other hand, research has shown that smoke-free alternatives like heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes don’t burn tobacco. When they don’t burn, no ash and smoke smell will be formed.

This means that they are better alternatives compared to cigarettes, as long as they are scientifically substantiated and regulated to ensure quality and safety.

BRIDGING THE GAP

Surprisingly, when comparing cigarettes with vape, e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, 40 per cent of respondents still thought all four products were equally harmful.

This shows that while Malaysians are aware of and open to smoke-free alternatives, there is still a huge knowledge gap and an opportunity for the government to educate consumers regarding these less harmful products.

Over the years, countries like Japan and New Zealand have seen a decline in the number of smokers, and they share one thing in common — both countries understand the value of smoke-free alternatives in helping smokers kick the habit.

All in all, the survey revealed that many Malaysians prefer to have information, access and proper regulation for smoke-free alternatives, as compared to a blanket ban on these products.

Interestingly, a total of 45 per cent of respondents said that they have tried alternative tobacco products before.

Regarding which source of information Malaysians trust for tobacco and nicotine products, half of the respondents said they trusted research studies the most, more than government statements, or friends and family.

Source: New Strait Times

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