Tobacco harm reduction strategies are proven to work, so why aren’t we adopting them?
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Smoking is a disgusting and deadly disease and vaping could be the cure Malaysia needs to improve our public health – So why aren’t we doing more to encourage this less harmful habit?
This is the burning question that was on Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam’s mind, the Deputy Head, Consultant Psychiatrist and Associate Professor at Monash University Malaysia’s School of Medicine, who spoke of how tobacco harm reduction strategies (THR) could potentially save millions of Malaysians from being victims of addiction and smoking-related illnesses.
In his speech at the recent Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM) conference in Kuala Lumpur, the doctor expressed his opinion that the country should adopt more regulatory policies like THR to counter the smoking epidemic.
According to World Health Organisation, smoking rates in the lower to middle-income countries has increased. In Malaysia, 80% of total tobacco users are from lower-and-middle income communities, which means we have a significant number of smokers among us. But are we taking things seriously? Have we put in plans that work, and put a stop to plans that don’t work?Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam
In short, what THR does is basically encourage smokers to convert to using e-cigarettes and vaporizers to control their habits, and eventually, quit smoking entirely.
Citing a study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health 2019 which showed that 90% of vapers in Malaysia are exclusively former and current smokers and that 42% of people who quit smoking for good were the ones who vape daily, Dr Sivakumar believes that the country is ready to extinguish our failed “no-smoking” campaigns in favour of one that’s proven to work.
He says that with government effort, encouragement and education, the rakyat can play a bigger role in both preventing and putting an end to the prevalence of smoking in Malaysia.
We know current programmes are not working. We need to look at this from a harm reduction perspective. Those who are involved should not just be doctors, psychiatrists, or general practitioners. It must be people from all walks of life, doing different things, because tobacco affects all areas of human life.Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam
He insisted that we as a nation can together work to install better rules, regulations and widen the opportunities to help get our smokers off the bud.
We need to look into national regulations to ensure product safety, standardisation of product content and flavour. There must also be open access to regulated THR products and marketing must be regulated. Most importantly, we need a public health information system that is accurate and targeted to smokers.Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam
Quoting another study done by Malaysian based think-tank, Datametrics Research and Information Centre (DARE), the doctor concludes that the rakyat was more than aware of what THR strategies can do to help and that the government should do more to promote it.
80% believe the adoption of THR strategies will help smokers quit traditional cigarettes. Almost 60% are aware of studies that have proven THR products are less harmful and 51% find vaping to be the most practical way to quit. 95% say the Malaysian government must be involved in implementing THR strategies. 98% would support THR adoption if it is proven to be effective in reducing smoking levels. This shows that the population need proper public health education. Close to 60% do not think that the government is actively developing THR strategies.Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam
He further emphasized that it would be wrong for us as a society to deny the means to prevent Malaysians from becoming just another statistic in the global smoking epidemic – where over one billion people (that’s 13% of the planet’s population) are afflicted with smoking-related diseases.
Over seven million people die every year from smoking-related diseases. So much so, smoking is clearly the biggest cause of NCDs (non-communicable diseases) worldwide. Sadly to say, almost 50% of smokers die prematurely. And this is preventable. Harm reduction not only looks at policies, regulations and health but also touches on social justice and human rights.Dr Sivakumar Thurairajasingam
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