By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is celebrated on May 31, every year. The bold initiative taken by the World Health Organization in 1987 was to draw attention to the tobacco epidemic.
In addition, to spread awareness to the general public about the fatal effects of tobacco use.
This year, theme is ‘We need food, not tobacco’, which aims “to raise awareness of alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and encourage them to grow sustainable and nutritious crops.”
Tobacco is cultivated for its leaves, then dried and fermented to make tobacco lethal products. It contains nicotine, an addictive ingredient, which is why millions of smokers, increasingly youth, struggle to quit.
Speaking of nicotine addiction, Malaysia has another good reason to highlight on WNTD this year. Namely, to raise concern over widespread abuse of hazardous vape products, in areas like Tambun to as far as Ranau according to the findings of All Parties Parliamentary Group – Sustainable Double Goals most recently.
This is after nicotine was bulldozed out of the Poisons List by the Health Minister in late March, making nicotine freely available to all. Indeed, ‘we need food, not nicotine’.
Hence, for a good 60 days, across the Hari Raya, Wesak and Gawai festivities, until 2023 WNTD Malaysians are being forced to accept a very toxic public ill-health policy, particularly targeted to youth under-18 years, when the free-for-all nicotine policy was deliberately created by the Health Minister; thus far, without any remorse, less still an explanation, if not apology.
While playing dumb, her Special Adviser was quoted last week: “As a respiratory consultant, I have seen many patients suffering from the effects of smoking and vaping. We all know the complications of diseases caused by smoking.
“Among the main complications is Chronic Obstructive Airway Disease which causes patients to have difficulty breathing due to damaged lungs.
“A new complication caused by vaping has also been detected, which is EVALI – Electronic Vape Associated Lung Injury.
“For the record, over 30 cases of EVALI have been reported to MOH so far,” he said, adding that the complication was not just affecting the patients, but also their wives and children. Something is gravely amiss, if the Minister and the Madani government is not privy to this profound facts!
This singularly makes the 2023 event the darkest moment in the history of WNTD where instead of instilling awareness to the general public about the harmful effects of tobacco and related products, Malaysians, especially school children are being enticed to abuse various forms of vape containing nicotine openly and unapologetically, doing just the contrast shamelessly in the eyes of the world.
The propagation and promotion nicotine to all and sundry, continued even after the WNTD event on the pretext to fine-tune the issue before bringing it to Parliament supposedly by next month.
In other words, the power that be consciously leave the door wide open for more EVALI cases, as though they are bankrupt of actions in the matter, unlike other nations like Australia.
Moreover, reportedly the said adviser recognised “of paramount importance to protect the health of the young generation and it comprises two main aspects, namely the control of smoking products including vape and e-cigarettes and the implementation of GEG [Generational End Game] policy.”
Why the double speak, meaning, any forms of delay under whatever excuses, especially due to lame political- bureaucratic processes (intended or otherwise), is utterly irresponsible, and unacceptable causing untold harm like EVALI.
This is likened to allowing Covid-19 to persist while knowing full well that it is deadly.
The newly minted Health Minister then, rightly announced, at the end of last year, lending hope that the GEG Bill on smoking and tobacco products control was to be retabled in the first sitting of Parliament this year! Not only that was not met, a downright unprofessional decision to let loose nicotine came as a killer surprise.
The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), which comprises 70 NGOs, professional bodies and medical associations, already warned that tax on all vape products before the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill, or GEG Bill, becomes law would run counter to the government’s intention to create a smoke-free generation of Malaysians by 2040.
Unfortunately, they were blatantly vetoed, and a new promise was issued on tragic day of April 1, by the Health Minister: this time the new Bill to regulate smoking products to be tabled in May! This turned out to be yet another political diversion!
Before more lies are spewed, we must reiterate the earlier MCTC’s concerns and demand for an urgent need for all to prioritise public health by fulfilling the promises made to the rakyat and no more delay for the Bill and the GEG provisions to become a law, overdue since October 2022.
Adding on, the latest call by Consumers Association of Penang to speedily implement the broken promises by presenting the same Bill and GEG provisions in Parliament.
Enough of foresaking the health of the rakyat, especially the under-aged, nationwide. An apology is definitely warranted!
- The writer is the recipient of the prestigious Tobacco Control Icon Award 2023 bestowed by the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control