The Malaysian government has announced plans to ban the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to all citizens born after 2005 in a bid to outlaw smoking and create a tobacco-free next generation. If passed, it would mean that anyone aged 17 today will never be able to buy tobacco in Malaysia in their lifetime.
Malaysia’s Minister of Health Khairy Jamaluddin told officials at a World Health Organization meeting in Geneva this week that he was planning to table the Tobacco and Smoking Control Act in parliament soon with a view to passing the legislation later this year.
“Malaysia would like to highlight the negative impact of tobacco on NCDs [non-communicable diseases], which is well-known,” he said. “If successful, [it] will bring about a generational end game to smoking… Malaysia feels this will have a significant impact in preventing and controlling NCDs.”
In December, New Zealand announced its own plans to effectively ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2008 by lifting the smoking age each year from 2027, in a law expected to be enacted later this year.
There are an estimated 4.9 million smokers in Malaysia, according to the government. One in five adults smokes and more than 27, 200 smoking-related deaths are reported every year, according to statistics released by health officials.
Creating a smoke-free generation is part of the Malaysian government’s campaign to reduce the prevalence of smoking, with politicians actively lobbying for stricter control and penalties on the sale of tobacco products and cigarettes.
The sale of vaporizer liquids containing nicotine has been banned in Malaysia since 2015. In 2019, the country also considered a total ban on all new vape devices and products following global health studies highlighting fatalities linked to e-cigarettes and vaping.
Many Malaysians welcomed this latest move to restrict smoking. “A stupid 15-year-old me trying to fit in, trying to make sense of how to cope from a broken home, trying – of all things – to look cool… by smoking,” shared Malaysian broadcast journalist Ibrahim Sani on Twitter. “25 years on, I am still an addict. Everyday I struggle. Spare the young from this please.”
Respiratory physician Helmy Haja Mydin, head of the lung centre at a hospital in the capital Kuala Lumpur, wrote: “Addiction isn’t a choice. I have many friends who smoke. None of them would like their children to do the same.”
But there were some who were sceptical about the plan actually working. “A great move to reduce NCDs in Malaysia but enforcement is needed to curb the illicit tobacco market,” wrote one Twitter user.
In Malaysia, it is illegal to smoke in restaurants, public spaces like hospitals, airports, schools and government premises, and public transport, but enforcement is often lax with many simply ignoring the rules.
“I am for this but as usual Malaysia sucks at the implementation. This will be another policy that is not enforced,” said another.
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