The Ministry of Health (MOH) plans to raise the minimum age limit for an individual to purchase and sell cigarettes from 18 to 21 years old revealed Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahya. The proposal is part of government efforts to address health concerns of passive smokers.

“We have proposed and submitted to our legal adviser to study, and engagement has been made with all stakeholders,” he said, explaining that the change in age limit was among other new proposals to be introduced in a new bill on tobacco control to be tabled in Parliament by the next year.

Prohibiting cigarettes at public spaces and raising prices to curb smoking

The 2016 Tobacco and E-cigarette Survey among Malaysian Adolescents (Tecma) surveyed 14,833 students from 138 schools in the country and revealed that over one in five male adolescents smoke cigarettes, with 36.8% of them smoking up to five sticks a day. This is despite nearly 100% of participants being aware that smoking was hazardous to their health.

“We must look into intensifying anti-smoking campaigns in schools. Meanwhile, the relevant authorities must step up their enforcement efforts. We cannot allow the sale of cigarettes to students,” said Deputy Education Minister Datuk Chong Sin Woon of the survey results.

The survey also found that exposure to second-hand smoke was highest at rest stops along highways, inside public transport vehicles as well as in the parents’ and guardians’ vehicles.

To address the health concerns of passive smoking, the Health Ministry enforced the Control of Tobacco Product (Amendment) Regulations 2017 in February this year, under which smoking is prohibited at public camp sites, game courts, play grounds as well as public parks.

According to Hilmi, more measures will be introduced, including raising the price of cigarettes.

“Cigarettes are currently sold at RM17 per pack and the target is to raise the price to RM21.50 per pack,” he said.

Anti-smoking efforts by MOH reaps minimal success

The ministry is also taking extra measures by looking into advertisements by cigarette manufacturers.

“If we are to go to a ‘nasi kandar’ shop, for example, at the counter, there will be full of cigarettes, this we are studying whether to include in the new act, (by having a law) prohibiting cigarettes being placed at the counters,” Hilmi said, explaining that control of tobacco products are regulated under the Food Control Act 1983.

According to Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) education officer N.V. Subbarow, loose cigarettes can be found openly sold near schools in George Town.

“Authorities, like the local council, can take action but no one’s bothered,” Subbarow said.

“Enforcement is poor. Confiscation and fines don’t work. We should have a deterrent punishment, only then will people be scared,” he also said, adding that anti-smoking campaigns must be as aggressive as the anti-dadah initiatives, particularly in schools.

According to Hilmi, the government has spent an average of RM2 million per annum since 2004 on anti-smoking campaigns, and has switched from billboards to social media platforms to propagate anti-smoking messages.

“I admit that the campaign is not very successful, but we will not give up,” Hilmi said, citing the 2015 National Health and Morbidity Survey which revealed only a mere 0.6% decrease in smoking trend among Malaysians from 2011. MIMS

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