KUALA LUMPUR, July 14 (Bernama) -- It came as a jolt, the revelation by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that tobacco kills nearly six million people each year.
WHO's assertion that unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030 is even more depressing news.
Several Malaysian associations have called on the government to introduce drastic measures to check smoking in the country, especially among the young.
Dr Othman Warijo, vice-president of the Malaysian Public Health Specialists Association (PPPKAM), said the Health Ministry should step up efforts to create greater awareness in the young on the dangers of smoking.
"Although there is no actual estimate on deaths due to smoking in Malaysia, we are seeing a trend where people start to smoke at a younger age," he told Bernama.
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Othman called for immediate prohibitive measures, saying that when people started smoking at a younger age they would be addicted over a longer period and it would become difficult for them to give up the habit.
"The tissues in young people deteriorate faster when exposed to cigarette smoke which contains toxins. The longer they indulge in the habit, they become addicted and endanger their health," he said.
Othman said Muslims could take advantage of Ramadan to give up smoking because they abstain from the habit during the fasting hours.
"A fatwa (edict) issued in 1996 prohibited smoking and, by giving up the habit in this holy month, they will receive God's blessings," he said.
Consultant cardiologist and physician at the Kuala Lumpur Heart Care Medical Centre, Datuk Dr Mohamad Rafiq Ibrahim, said the awareness on the dangers of smoking must be inculcated at the level of the primary school itself.
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"We are heading towards becoming a developed nation. As such, efforts to instil awareness on the dangers of smoking must be implemented consistently by the government. Then, even children will begin to advise their parents to give up the habit," he said.
Mohamad Rafiq said smoking among women was also becoming increasingly evident in the country and cautioned that the habit would endanger the health of their children when they were carrying.
Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S. M. Mohamed Idris said the government measure of raising the prices of cigarettes was one deterrent for smokers to quit the habit.
"Medium- and low-income people will find it difficult to buy cigarettes when the prices are high," he said.
Mohamed Idris also urged the Health Ministry to prohibit the sale of electronic cigarettes and the smoking of shisha which he claimed also had detrimental effects on smokers.
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WHO said studies show that few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use.
It quoted an example of a 2009 survey in China which revealed that only 38 per cent of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 27 per cent knew that it causes stroke.
Among smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco, most want to quit, it said.
Counselling and medication can more than double the chance that a smoker who tries to quit will succeed, it added.
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