Commentary Lifestyle

Why it is not wise to ban cigarette alternatives


Shahrum Sayuthi
Written by Shahrum Sayuthi

Nov 24 2018

The anti-smoking campaign in Malaysia has reached a new high recently with the announcement that the consumption of all tobacco products are to be banned at eateries come Jan 1 next year.

This ban had even been extended to include all products containing nicotine which affects vaping and shisha smoking.

How the ruling is to be implemented was yet to be made clear, for many, particularly smokers, gone will be the days of long “teh tarik sessions” with friends at mamak restaurants.

The government’s health-conscious decision may be lauded, but whether comprehensive study and in-depth consideration had been made prior to the ban announcement could be an interesting moot point. This in particular concerns the inclusion of vaping and use of e-cigarette as part of the ban.

Such hasty arbitrary crackdown on vape and e-cigarette products was the same concern voiced by experts from across the globe at the 2nd Asia Harm Reduction Forum in Manila last week.

The experts at the forum were calling on policy makers, particularly in Asia, to consider adopting tobacco harm reduction approach, as well as providing access and accurate information on alternative nicotine products, such as electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products, and sinus.

“Many Asian countries remain very skeptical about tobacco harm reduction and some have even banned alternative nicotine products. Regulators need to see that tobacco harm reduction is potentially the most effective solution to solving the smoking epidemic in Asia, and complement existing tobacco control measures,” said Prof. Ron Christian Sison of the Philippines.

The forum presented the latest scientific findings by leading health practitioners and academics which showed the growing body of evidence supporting the public health benefits of tobacco harm reduction, particularly the development of less harmful nicotine delivery systems.

It is understandable for anti-smoking campaigners to view the opinions and supporting facts presented at the forum with negativity but all quarters need to overcome such sentiments if they were sincere in laying down a policy which is truly beneficial for the public.

Throughout decades of anti-smoking campaign in Malaysia and elsewhere, it has been proven that forcing smokers to quit the habit by way of reducing the number of places where they could enjoy their cigarettes had never been truly successful.

Most smokers endure the growing restrictions and simply adapt their smoking routine accordingly.

It is also noted that very few quit the habit due to the increases in cigarette prices intended to make it costlier to be a smoker.

Smokers simply go around it, with many resorting to buying the cheaper smuggled or counterfeit cigarettes, making Malaysia the number one country in the cigarette black market economy.

Then, there is the policy of trying to force smokers intending to quit the habit to take the cold-turkey route instead of encouraging them to have the much less harmful substitutes such as vape and e-cigarette.

This practically doomed heavy smokers in particular, to continue the habit as not many of them could just give up their cigarette without any form of substitute to help wean off the loss of decades-long nicotine dependency.

Those who argued against vaping and the use of other types of e-cigarettes have cited various reasons to support their point of view, with the most popular being the need to stop the young from picking up the habit.

For this, it should be noted that it is a rarity for those who use the less harmful vape or e-cigarette to revert back or switch to conventional smoking while the task of stopping youths from picking up the habit would probably require less dexterity then it was with all those failed anti-smoking campaigns of the past.

As pointed out by several panelists at the forum in Manila, the authorities need to consider formulating specific regulations on less harmful alternatives to tobacco based on scientific evidence rather than adopting a myopic view on the issue by lumping everything related to the smoking habit and tarred them in the same black color.

Meanwhile, the poser on hypocrisy remains on why the authorities were still reluctant to totally ban the sale of cigarette despite being adamant about maintaining their claim of protecting the public to a point of shooting down everything associated to it, including those which may likely help solve the problem.

Looking at the whole scenario, an honest review of the entire issue was what appeared to be most needed instead of draconian action against a segment of population which took up the legally permitted smoking habit as well as those who tried to quit it via alternatives such as vaping and use of e-cigarette.

(Shahrum Sayuthi is an editor of The Mole. He was a smoker for almost 35 years before quitting the habit by substituting cigarette with vape.)



About the author

Shahrum Sayuthi

Shahrum Sayuthi