Give me my 'better option' — Sarah Zailana Hamid

JULY 11 — I will make a simple confession - I have been smoking since college, and continue to smoke. Yes, I am concerned that others will be impacted by my smoking habits, but quitting is not as easy as people make it sounds.

That being said, I have been told that the government is currently in the midst of introducing an Anti-Tobacco Bill. Does this mean quitting is the only option? Or will it also have options for those who are not willing to quit?

So what is the new Malaysian Ministry of Health’s stance on alternative devices such as vape and tobacco heaters? Are we going to ban them like Singapore, or allow them as a better option to smoking as done by the United Kingdom?

This is what we are talking about - reducing harm to those already smoking, not about encouraging people to smoke. For some reason, the anti-tobacco lobby continues to confuse the two and promote a scare stance on vaping and such devices. Why?

If it is less harmful than everyday cigarettes, and will be better for chronic smokers without affecting those around them while they vape or smoke heated tobacco, what is the problem?

I am very aware of the problems brought on by smoking, coupled with stress and non-activity which have affected some family members throughout their lifetime.

We have a problem with smokers in this country which impacts everyone from the secondhand smoke to even the litter caused by not having designated smoking areas in public places.

Yes, these devices will create some harm, and that is not the question. The question to consider is whether it is more or less harmful than what they are currently smoking.

The claim thus far is that it is 95 percent less harmful than smoking everyday cigarettes - by all means if government, NGOs and academics wish to test this claim, they should fund a study to do so. To dispel such research due to funding, and even raise questions on the credibility of the organisations which do it, just means these people have to prove the contrary stand.

It is a given that allowing the sale of vaping equipment, liquids and alternative devices is now scarce, or even in a state of perpetual limbo after an initial boom before this due to fear mongering and bad publicity.

Instead, we insist that people quit all the way or rely on patches, attend clinics funded by the Ministry of Health and its allies, or even chew nicotine gum which have a laxative effect.

Looking at other countries such as the UK, their government has provided other options which includes less risky products such as e-cigarettes. For Japan, they have less risky alternatives like the heated tobacco. In Sweden, the snus is widely available.

Thus, where does Malaysia stand?

I personally feel that for Malaysia, smokers should also have access to these options. At least, they can still enjoy something which they know is less dangerous rather than smoking which is clearly harmful to them.

At the same time, that ability to choose less harmful alternatives will in the long run save money for the public healthcare system.

Therefore, the right thing to do is to have options for both sides – those who choose to quit may do so by getting assistance from cessation aid services and those who don’t want to quit should be given access to something which is less harmful. It’s good to have choices. That’s exactly what happened when we exercised our rights to choose on 9th May this year.

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

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