Protect vulnerable groups from unhealthy habits during lockdown — Fiona Ng

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JUNE 12 — As a 48-year-old Chinese female who smokes, I am somewhat of an anomaly in my social circles. I have been smoking for over two decades now.

I picked up smoking in university to cope with stress and to gain social acceptance, and the habit has stuck since.

I wouldn’t encourage anyone to pick up the habit. The health hazards, both physically and mentally, are well documented and all around us.

As someone who used to smoke two packs a day, I can attest that the embers burn not just at the end of cigarette sticks, but also huge holes in one’s pockets.

Just recently, we marked the annual World No Tobacco Day on May 31. There’s nothing like a day, observed under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO), to drum in the message about the dangers of smoking.

It may sound ironic, but as a smoker, I support such messages. They help remind not just me, but the millions of smokers and potential puffers worldwide the risks that come with the habit (or addiction, as the case may be).

Personally, smoking is my choice of — for lack of a better word —  poison. I smoke to relax and calm my mind. There have been stressful days in the office that I could not imagine how I could have gotten through without the kick of nicotine to calm my frayed nerves and convoluted mind.

Non-smokers may resort to other habits to achieve the same, such as bingeing on junk food, getting hooked to screens at the expense of physical activity, to say nothing of taking alcohol. All these pose physical, mental and emotional health hazards just as smoking cigarettes do.

A worker arranges cigarette packets at a shop in Putrajaya. — File picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A worker arranges cigarette packets at a shop in Putrajaya. — File picture by Shafwan Zaidon

What is important is that one must be aware of the risks associated with these unhealthy habits and that there are enough safeguards to protect vulnerable groups.

In this sense, smokers are more “lucky” because decades of sustained anti-smoking campaigns have bombarded us and those at risk of picking up the habit, with enough knowledge on whether we want to go down that smoky road that may lead to a premature death, or beat a hasty retreat.

The “newer” unhealthy habits like bingeing on junk food or spending excessive amounts of time in front of screens do not enjoy the kind of militant-grade exposure accorded to smoking awareness campaigns. More so during this lockdown period.

The government also does not campaign against alcohol consumption with the same fervour as it does with smoking.

When was the last time you saw a legally-mandated photo of a damaged liver on the label of a Johnny Walker? Even smoking alternatives come with a warning label.

Last week, a deputy minister had said that cigarettes and liquor were non-essential items during the lockdown but only the latter was banned from being sold. The order was later rescinded.

I find this a bit “unfair” to those who have been hooked to these habits, as giant corporations continue to milk an industry that peddles mood-altering products, some more unsafe than others. During the lockdown, the temptation to indulge in these habits is even greater.

The least we can do is to ensure that those who indulge in these legal but unhealthy habits are fully aware of what they are getting themselves into. If they still want to continue with their lifestyle choices, it is a risk they have to take, just as I took mine with smoking.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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