TL;DR: Malaysia May Not Be Ready For A Complete Smoking And Vaping Ban Just Yet
ICYMI, here's the lowdown — the Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill is being tabled in Parliament. If passed, those born in 2005 or later will be banned from buying tobacco or vape products.
Back in 2015, the government launched the National Strategic Plan for Tobacco Control 2015-2020, with hopes of reducing smoking prevalence to below 15% by 2025.
However, according to CodeBlue, Malaysia has fallen behind targets with 21.3% of smoking prevalence in 2019, nearly 3% higher than the 18.5% goal for that year.
In fact, a 2020 report to the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) showed that Malaysia's smoking rates have barely declined, only dropping 1.5% between 2015 and 2019.
It's estimated that 4.9 million Malaysians aged 15 years and older still currently smoke, as reported in the National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019
To put things into perspective, our smoking problem persists despite all the anti-smoking policies and measures taken in the past few decades, which has cost billions of ringgit to implement.
In 1982, smoking was banned in government premises. In 1993, it was disallowed in air-conditioned restaurants nationwide. Through the Food Safety and Hygiene Regulation 2009, cooks and waiters were prohibited from smoking while working to prevent food contamination. And as recently as 2019, Malaysia implemented a smoking ban in eateries.
Nevertheless, old habits die hard. In a sense, it explains why the government is attempting to uproot the issue among youths before it festers. However, such a move may not result in the desired outcome.
1. Such an immediate ban might be hard for the government to implement effectively
The Tobacco and Smoking Control Bill likely drew inspiration from New Zealand's Generational End Game policy. The difference is that New Zealand's version has been following a phased approach from 2011, and will only start banning cigarettes for those who are 14 years old or younger in 2027.
How will the Malaysian government impose such an immediate ban on both cigarettes and vape products effectively? What if youth buy these products online, or what if retailers put profitability over public health? These are concerns that ought to be addressed if the bill is to be passed.
2. Such a blanket ban may see the rise of black market products
Taking New Zealand as an example again, they are putting in measures to complement the smoking ban, such as steeply raising the price of cigarettes and prohibiting the sale of vape products to those under 18 years old. Nevertheless, they still see the value of vaping as a way to help smokers kick the habit.
If Malaysia were to outrightly ban cigarettes and vape products, it would likely lead to a boom for the black market, as regular users may resort to illegal products. Instead, proper regulation for harm reduction products like vape should be set in place as an alternative for smokers.
3. Such a drastic ban may lead to a slippery slope of other bans
One of the arguments raised by many is the 'slippery slope', which warns that a ban in cigarettes and vape products may eventually lead to banning other unhealthy items, such as alcohol.
While I do not subscribe to this particular opinion, the fact is that some people believe smoking or vaping is their human right. Hence, this is yet another argument that the government needs to be aware of.
All in all, "Generation End Game" is a noble aspiration. However, whether Malaysians are ready for it remains to be seen.
This story is a personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of SAYS.
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