THE Health Ministry has announced that its minister will table a Tobacco Control and Smoking Bill in the Dewan Rakyat in July.
The new legislation targets those born in and after 2005, who would be prohibited from buying, possessing or consuming tobacco products, including cigarettes and vape.
This move aims to ultimately ban access to tobacco and nicotine by Malaysian youth and future generations. This strategy is termed the Generational End Game (GEG).
Some may argue that the bold move to eliminate legal products that have been in Malaysia for hundreds of years will not work. It took the human race decades to understand the devastating effects of tobacco use. This addictive substance is linked to various types of cancers, heart and lung diseases, and disorders connected to virtually every organ in our body.
As technology advances, nicotine addiction takes on a new form.
The electronic nicotine delivery system or vape makes it more convenient to replenish one’s nicotine withdrawal with fruity flavourings to mask the vicious dependence behind it.
Studies have proved that nicotine is as addictive as cocaine and heroin, and may in fact be more addictive.
I am certain that if we had known this fact decades ago, tobacco and nicotine would be made illegal for people, just like illicit drugs.
The GEG’s ultimate goal is to control tobacco use. It makes total sense that we have the will to make it happen.
Malaysia will not be the first to propose a tobacco-free generation plan.
Singapore has been planning since 2010 to totally ban access to tobacco products by all those born in 2000 and beyond. In a country where falling ill is a very costly affair, it’s no wonder that the move to create a healthier nation has strong public support.
Brunei is perhaps one of the best examples of nations that strive hard to end the tobacco epidemic. Its stringent tobacco licensing policy, importation tax, smoke-free zones and a total ban on vape have made tobacco products virtually impossible to obtain.
Congratulations to Brunei for achieving a single-digit prevalence figure of tobacco use in its youth population, as evident in a 2019 survey.
New Zealand also plans to ban youths from ever buying cigarettes in their lifetime. Through this policy, New Zealanders aged 14 and below in 2027 will not be allowed to buy cigarettes anywhere in the country.
A bill will be introduced in Parliament next month, with the aim of making it law by the end of this year. New Zealand may soon become the first country in the world to achieve its own GEG.
Tasmania, an island-state in Australia, which is about one fifth the size of Malaysia, advocates a legislation barring the sale of tobacco to individuals born after 2000 to prevent youths from becoming nicotine addicts.
Tasmania also plans to raise the legal smoking age to 21.
Can you see a pattern here? More countries around the world are having tobacco-free generation strategies and working passionately towards achieving the goal.
The benefits of removing all tobacco products, including the electronic nicotine delivery system or vape, from the environment will be greater than just for health reasons. A healthy generation will create a progressive, productive and prosperous nation.
I watched a video recently in which children do not have a clue what a cassette tape is!
Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, the younger generation do not know what a cigarette, cigar or vape pod is?
That dream can come true if we all come together and make the right decision now for the sake of our children, and their children.
They should not be exposed to any nicotine product, and smokers and vapers should be assisted in ending nicotine addiction.
Our younger generations (Z, Alpha and others) will face different kinds of life trials and tribulations in this seemingly tougher world.
Having effective nicotine addiction policies will help millions of young Malaysians get a great start in life. It is up to us and the wisdom of our generation to help the younger generation to be the best that they can be.
The tobacco epidemic is a great shame and tragedy to humans. We must end it now.
Dr Nizan Baharom. The writer is Public Health Medicine Specialist, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM)