These days, it's difficult for any government to get the people and politicians on both sides of the divide excited about any policy
But our authorities certainly got many, if not most, excited when they announced the plan to ban access of tobacco products to those born after 2005.
When the news broke, social media was abuzz. At a time when the political stakes are high, this is a bold move. There were those who questioned whether the authorities had the willpower to make this a reality.
The cynicism was understandable. The authorities have so far failed to stamp out illicit cigarettes — Malaysia is still the number one country for illicit cigarettes in the world — or even properly enforce the smoking ban in restaurants.
The ministry's announcement that the endgame, which also includes vaping, perhaps gave the cynics more reason to feel they were right to doubt the government's plan would work.
The reason for this is simple — in any plan to get people to stop smoking, vaping is an ally
In fact, it is a key ally, if not the most important one.
It may sound peculiar because smoking and vaping are often seen in the same light, but science tells us otherwise.
There is a mountain of evidence — that keeps growing — which shows how vaping is not only less harmful than cigarettes, but also effective in assisting people to kick the smoking habit. More effective even than nicotine patches, gum, or medication.
This is precisely why vaping is seen as an important part of New Zealand's own "tobacco endgame" plan called Smokefree 2025
Late last year, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, when talking about the country's own Smokefree 2025 plan, spoke on the need to look at alternatives like vaping instead of old-style restrictions like increasing the price of cigarettes.
"We've already got the vaping framework, we're already seeing vaping being used by people as a tool to stop smoking, and that actually enables us to push ahead with further activities to reduce smoking because there is an alternative that works very successfully for people in order to stop smoking. We know vaping is making a difference for those now in order to stop smoking, so it is an important tool," she was quoted as saying.
She could not have said it any better, and Malaysia would do well to take a leaf out of New Zealand's playbook. Though vaping is not without risks, it is undeniably a less harmful and better alternative to smoking.
Interestingly, vaping has been the cornerstone theme of New Zealand's QuitStrong campaign, and is offered as a key support mechanism to help people quit smoking.
The truth is, ambitious as it sounds, Malaysia's tobacco endgame is not unattainable
Putrajaya doesn't even have to reinvent the wheel, as other countries like New Zealand are showing how they can get people to quit smoking.
But the government will not accomplish its goal with a reliance on negative sentiment or outdated notions on things like vaping.
It must walk the talk on the reliance on science and data, the same thing it preaches when it comes to COVID-19 and vaccinations. Scientific facts and data are all around us. It's up to us whether we want to use them in designing policies that can not only change, but also save lives.
This story is a personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the position of SAYS.
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