YOU know we live in confusing times when a product that kills six million people every year is offered as an alternative to its illicit counterpart.
Last week, a few news outlets reported that the government is considering bringing back “kiddie packs”, or smaller packs of cigarettes. Kiddie packs (containing 10 cigarettes), being more affordable, were designed to reel in “low consumption” smokers, such as casual or social smokers, women and children.
They have been banned in many countries worldwide, including Malaysia in 2010, and rightfully so. Kiddie packs, once legalised, are priced cheaply, packaged attractively and shown prominently – all of which appeal to children.
Studies have shown that exposure to cigarettes, like how they are currently displayed in coffee shops and convenience stores, combined with discounts, increases youth smoking.
Experts worldwide also state that most adult smokers start when they were teenagers, and this is supported by our study of young smokers last year. Among 143 teenagers, 70% started smoking between 12 and 15. Close to 60% do not even enjoy smoking, and had tried to quit without success.
These children also underestimate the addictive power of nicotine. Close to 50% said they did not think they would still be smoking in a year. Only 25% thought it would be difficult for someone to quit once they started.
Do we really want to tempt more kids to experiment, and start and sustain their addiction, with premium kiddie packs? Do we want more victims to develop a lifetime addiction, or in other words, become lifelong customers of the tobacco industry?
Those arguing for kiddie packs would have us believe that anyone against these small packs support illicit cigarettes. But the alternative to illicit cigarettes are not legal ones. All cigarettes are lethal.
The alternative to both illicit and legal cigarettes is not starting in the first place. This is why we need to reduce society’s access to cigarettes (licensing), and decrease their affordability (price hike) as well as their appeal (plain packaging).
The alternative to increased tax revenue if we have kiddie packs is enforcing tobacco control laws to safeguard Malaysia’s healthcare, development and economy. In the long run, taxpayers and the government will save millions on treating diseases caused or worsened by smoking, including 16 types of cancer, heart and lung diseases, diabetes and mental illness.
The alternative to derailing every tobacco control measure proposed is putting the health of Malaysians first. It is rallying everyone to support the work – and deferring to the expertise as well as experience – of the Health Ministry and World Health Organisation.
This week, we will celebrate our 60th Independence Day, as well as our successful hosting of the Sea Games. Don’t fall for the “lesser of two evils” argument. It undermines your intelligence, the hard work of ministries that are enforcing tobacco control, and the will of those who want to – and can – quit.
Being pragmatic is having all sectors and industries, such as trade, customs, finance, education, youth, retailers and civil society organisations, unite against an industry that has caused harm and taken lives for decades.
Doing better is a choice; something that is snatched from our children who picked up cigarettes and just cannot stop. Let us do better to protect our future generation and keep kiddie packs off our shelves.
— Dr Saunthari Somasundaram, President & Medical Director, National Cancer Society Malaysia