Materia Medica Malaysiana

May 27, 2007

One in five Malaysian smokers below 15

Filed under: Uncategorized — malaysianmedicine @ 10:21 am

NST: KUALA LUMPUR: Despite repeated warnings about the dangers of smoking, children as young as 14 are lighting up.
A Health Ministry survey found that the average age of new smokers has been dropping steadily over the years.
“In 1986, the average age at which Malaysians started smoking was 19. Ten years later, the average age was 18. Last year, it was 14,” said Federal Territory Health Department deputy health director Dr Sallehudin Abu Bakar.
At least 20 per cent of the country’s smokers are believed to be below the age of 15.
Three million male smokers and 200,000 female smokers aged 15 and above make up the other 80 per cent.
“Surveys by the ministry found that the majority of young smokers, about 40 per cent, started smoking because of peer pressure.
“Only 10 per cent said they were influenced by advertisements,” said Dr Sallehudin, who was speaking in his capacity as a facilitator of the ministry’s “Quit Smoking” programme.
He said a ban on smoking would not serve any purpose if neighbouring countries did not follow suit.
“Drugs are banned but you still get drugs in the country. Tobacco will just go underground and when that happens, it will be very difficult to control.
“There will be a lot of smuggling and some people will get very rich.”
He said it made more sense for the government to use regulatory measures to discourage smoking.
In fact, he added, the government is mulling over the possibility of introducing a special licence for cigarette vendors.
Associate professor Dr Mohamad Haniki Nik Mohamad, who heads the Pharmacy Practice Department of the International Islamic University of Malaysia in Kuantan, agreed that this was the right approach to take.
He said the government should regulate tobacco as a poison under the Dangerous Drugs Act.
Dr Haniki also suggested that the price of cigarettes be increased by imposing a 60 per cent tax.
Cigarette packets, he said, should carry graphic health warnings about the dangers of smoking.
“Eliminate kiddie-packs. Only 20-stick packs should be allowed. And smoking in all public places should be banned,” he stressed.
Dr Haniki said while the ban on cigarette advertising had been helpful, there were legal loopholes which allowed indirect advertising by cigarette companies.
Dr Sallehudin urged smokers to seek help at “Quit Smoking” clinics run by the Health Ministry which had helped about 1,000 smokers kick the habit.
The ministry began setting up “Quit Smoking” clinics in 1998. There are now some 250 “Quit Smoking” clinics in the country.
Most of them are based at government polyclinics and managed by family medicine specialists. There are also clinics at outpatient departments of government hospitals.
“Eighty per cent of smokers who show up for treatment at the “Quit Smoking” clinics are male. About 60 per cent of them don’t complete the programme.
“The figure is even higher for female smokers,” Dr Sallehudin said, adding that the definition of quitting successfully was total abstinence for six months.

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