Political will and vital application to implement New Zealand’s tobacco control law
IN Malaysia, tobacco kills more than 27,200 people each year, and an estimated 4.8 million people aged 15 and over in the country are smokers.
This dangerous dependency carries significant costs for individuals and families and also adds to major macroeconomic impacts affecting businesses, governments and health systems.
“Cigarettes remain the only legal product that kills half of its regular users when consumed as intended by the manufacturer. Tobacco is lethal in any form or disguise, whether it is cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, hookahs, etc.
Ideally, Malaysia should start implementing stricter laws against smoking, like what is happening in New Zealand, says Dr Lekhraj. However, for this to become a reality, the government must have the political will to follow the rhetoric.
New Zealand’s new anti-smoking law aims to ultimately create a smoke-free country.
âIn my opinion, this goal will not be achieved if the Malaysian government and ministers continue to tackle the problem. All ministers need to understand the problem and work as a team, including working closely with NGOs and community leaders to address the tobacco problem, âhe said.
In comparison, Dr Lekhraj points out that New Zealand has been very active in tobacco control since 1989 and takes the âend of the gameâ of smoking seriously.
While most developed countries have set a smoking prevalence target of less than 5% by 2025, Malaysia’s target is a dismal number – less than 15% by 2025 and less than 5% by 2025. 2040, says Dr Lekhraj, addressing the goals set out in the National Strategic Plan for Tobacco Control 2021-2030.
As first steps, Dr Lekhraj said Malaysia should expedite the tabling of the Tobacco Control Bill – to regulate the use of tobacco and e-cigarette products – in the next parliamentary session, as this initiative has been postponed by nearly four legislatures. He also advocates banning all electronic cigarettes or vapes, advertising all tobacco products, and raising the smoking age from 18 to 21, and then imposing a generational ban on people born from from 2009.
Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah of the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations strongly supports the introduction of strict anti-smoking laws in Malaysia.
Muhammad Sha’ani, who is the organization’s tobacco control coordinator, explains that as part of the National Tobacco Control Strategic Plan 2021-2030, Malaysia already intends to introduce a smoke-free generation, where people born from 2009 onwards would not smoke.
âAs part of the plan, there is already the aspect of creating a smoke-free generation. However, to make it legally binding, you have to change the law to coincide with that mission, âhe says.
âMost adult smokers started smoking as a teenager. Protecting children from smoking is the easiest way to reduce smoking among the population, âsays Muhammad Sha’ani.
He adds that for this to happen, enforcement must be strengthened alongside social sanctions motivated by good leadership.
âThe biggest challenge in stopping tobacco use is the influence of the tobacco industry on public policy through lobbying. Public reaction is one of the means employed by the industry, with aggressive disinformation regularly promoted by front groups to prevent politicians from making the right decisions, âsaid Muhammad Sha’ani.
One of the reasons often cited against a tobacco ban is the loss of the tobacco tax, but in reality the total cost of health care to manage and treat illnesses resulting from exposure to tobacco smoke is several times higher than the tax revenue generated by tobacco, says Muhammad Sha’ani. .
He adds that laws alone will not achieve a tobacco-free world, because what is needed is the cooperation of the entire nation to achieve great social change.
âThere should no longer be any debate about whether or not to stop smoking, we should be thinking about ways to implement comprehensive tobacco control measures for the sake of generations to come. It is a form of sustainable development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.