KUALA LUMPUR, March 3 — A panel of health experts yesterday agreed that smoking cessation strategies, particularly the use of vape, can be a game-changer in managing smoke prevalence in Malaysia.

Speaking at a media roundtable, managing director of Datametrics Research and Information Centre (DARE) Pankaj Kumar said that vape alone, if regulated and promoted as a less harmful alternative to smoking, could reduce the number of Malaysia’s smokers from five million to four million by 2025.

The media roundtable was also in conjunction with the release of DARE’s latest report titled Clearing the Smoke – A game-changer in the Malaysian smoking issues.

“I think it is vital for people to understand that these possible outcomes are not wild guesses. Our report was based on data from international agencies, and our findings are consistent with the growing mountain of evidence on vape and smoking cessation.


“If we are serious about getting people to quit smoking, then we can no longer ignore the science. We must make sure the smokers have access to a less harmful product like vape that has proven to be more effective than other tools to quit smoking,” he said.

The panel consisted of Pankaj, Dr Arifin Fii, a medical practitioner currently focusing on addiction therapy, with experience in conducting harm reduction programmes and Dr Steven Chow, president of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM).

Sharing that smoking is the single most preventable cause of non-communicable diseases (NCD), Dr Arifin said that while there are smoking cessation programmes already in Malaysia, not many have been successful, and that it is important that Malaysia continually evaluates its strategies for decreasing tobacco related morbidity and mortality.


“While the concept of harm reduction for tobacco is relatively new, what affected communities in this case, smokers — have always been fighting for — the right to health, with nobody left behind — has long been enshrined in the public health agendas of governments worldwide.

“In this space as a medical practitioner, I believe that public health is not served by discouraging adult smokers from switching to less harmful alternatives, nor by implementing overly restrictive regulations that stop existing consumers accessing these products,” he said.

Dr Chow also shared that quitting cold turkey is the ideal solution, but is often difficult for most, so switching to less harmful alternatives can be a good first step.

“FPMPAM proposes that smoking cessation counselling and management should be part and parcel of the scope of work of specially trained general and family practitioners. Doctors are the right professionals to advise patients to quit and how to do it.

“With regards to vaping, the government should urgently enact risk proportionate regulations. The regulations must be comprehensive and spell out safety standards for the device used as well as its contents.”

He added that opinion leaders and policy makers must keep an open mind and follow the science when it comes to helping people quit smoking.

“Precedence has been set in countries like the UK and New Zealand, there is a lot we can learn from them.

“We just need to see how we can best apply the science to Malaysia to achieve the best possible outcome,” he said.

According to the report by DARE, the government stands to benefit greatly should the number of smokers go down, especially in terms of its cost on healthcare, adding that should the number of smokers go down to four million by 2025, the government may save up to RM1.3 billion.

The report recommended a reform of the regulatory framework surrounding nicotine products, embracing vaping as a form of harm reduction, vape regulation, risk proportionate taxation framework and providing vapes and zero cost at health facilities.

“Overall, Malaysians can see the potential benefit of an effective science-based policy. An overwhelming 98 per cent are in favour of adoption of such policies if less harmful alternative products to cigarettes in Malaysia are proven to be effective in reducing smoking levels among Malaysians.

“These are significant study results that show Malaysians want the government to adopt evidence-based policy or strategy,” the report said.

It said that the local vape industry is set to expand rapidly should the government provide the right regulatory and taxation framework to be in place, adding that the current market was said to be valued at RM2.27 billion in 2020.

* Editor's note: An earlier version of this article contained an error which has since been rectified.