Graphic Health Warning (GHW) Cigarette Pack

It’s an old same issue. SMOKING tobacco, the much maligned habit, still has a stranglehold on millions of Malaysians undeterred by the growing weight of evidence testifying to its ill effects on the health. SMOKER in Malaysia smoke 33 million cigarettes and with a minimum estimation of 26 sen per stem, they spent about RM8.6 million to buy cigarette a day.

Cigarette smoking has been medically established as a major cause of lung cancer, and an important contributory cause of coronary heart disease. Many are unaware that smoking also can cause loss of eyesight. Studies have shown that public awareness of health and smoking hazards is high in cardiovascular diseases but not many are aware of its ill effects on the eye. Smoking enhances early formation of cataract in the eyes, a condition that usually affects elderly people.

Smokers not only waste good money on cigarettes or tobacco to buy, but also run the risk of fatal diseases as well.

On the other hand, thousands of office workers in Malaysia bear with the secondary smoke from their cigarette-smoking colleagues every day. Many just suffer their discomfort in silence rather than risk the wrath of the smokers. Many would like to believe that secondary cigarette smoke is not all that harmful.

On the economic cost of tobacco smoking, it was a mind blowing. It costs the nation more than RM3 billion a year to treat citizens afflicted by three major diseases - heart attack, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Quitting smoking is no easy matter however strong-willed you are because it's a drug addiction. Many smokers have lost count of the number of times they have said they would quit and didn't. Or the number of times they tried to quit smoking only to start again within a short time. It is extremely difficult to quit smoking. Fewer than seven per cent of smokers who try to quit on their own achieve more than one year of abstinence. In fact, most smokers begin smoking again within a few days. It takes five to seven attempts before the average smoker is able to quit. Therefore, helping smokers to quit takes on special urgency so as to address the issue.

Malaysia has made it to another milestone in tobacco control by introducing graphic health warnings (GHW) on cigarette packs for its efforts in curbing smoking. Starting 1 June 2009, all cigarette packs must display pictorial GHW on illnesses caused by tobacco. Those caught selling packs without the GHW would be fined RM10,000 or two years' jail, or both under the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations (Amended) 2008. It will be one of the more than 20 countries doing so. For that, it should be given a pat on the back. It’s hope that these shocking pictures are deterring youngsters from taking up the smoking habit.

After 11 years of government anti smoking campaigns, there has only been around two per cent drop in the number of smokers. This is included the ban on the use of misleading descriptors such as "low-tar", "mild", "light" and "ultra-light", the ban on cigarette advertisements and smoking in public places, the prohibition on tobacco sponsorship of sports events such as Formula One racing, the 2004 "Tak Nak" (Do Not Want) campaign and quit-smoking clinics, the banning sale of "kiddie pack" cigarettes and the increase in no-smoking zones.

For the record, Malaysia has the highest percentage of teenage smokers aged 13 to 15 compared with other Asean countries. Nearly 40 per cent of teenage boys and at least 11 per cent of teenage girls in this country are smokers even though the sale of cigarettes to youths under 18 has been made an offence punishable with a maximum fine of RM5,000 or two years' jail when the Health Ministry enforces the Control of Tobacco Regulations, in March, 1992.

For Muslims, 14 years ago, the National Fatwa Council issued an opinion that smoking was haram (forbidden). Although it was gazetted as law only in Selangor (1995) and Penang (2004), the opinion is binding upon all Muslims in the country. So, why are so many Muslims still smoking? This coming Ramadan (22/08/09 – 19/09/09, the fasting month) is the best time for Muslims to quit smoking. Abstinence from eating, drinking and smoking from sunrise to sunset could be use as a stepping stone to kick the habit away.

Smokers, don’t think that we hate you for this. Actually we love you all so that you could live a healthier life.