Global Health Asia-Pacific March 2022 March 2022 - Page 33

Governments want an end to smoking

Malaysia and New Zealand plan to make it illegal for youngsters , but the moves could lead to unintended consequences

Malaysia will ban the sale of tobacco products for people born after 2005 , with the goal of creating smoke-free and healthier generations . “ We , like some other WPRO ( Western Pacific ) countries , hope to pass a legislation this year which , if successful , will bring about a generation endgame to smoking by making it illegal for the sale of tobacco and other smoking products to anyone born after 2005 . Malaysia feels this will have a significant impact in preventing and controlling NCDs [ noncommunicable diseases ],” Malaysia Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin told the 150th session of the Executive Board of the World Health Organization ( WHO ) in January .

New Zealand announced it would pass similar legislation to “ make sure young people never start smoking ,” said Ayesha Verral , New Zealand ’ s Associate Health Minister , in a statement .
Such strict measures are intended to stem the steep rise in deaths associated with smoking . In Malaysia , almost 30,000 people die of diseases related to tobacco use every year , according to The Tobacco Atlas . Similarly , the addictive habit is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand , Verral wrote , with Maoris and low-income communities most affected .
The WHO estimates that tobacco use kills more than eight million people in the world annually and is one of the biggest public health threats facing humanity . The practice is also a major risk factor for a host of chronic conditions , including cancer , heart , and respiratory diseases . But tobacco can be deadly for non-smokers too , with second-hand smoke exposure contributing to 1.2 million deaths a year .
Given the destructive effects of smoking , it ’ s no surprise several public health experts have hailed the bans as momentous steps in the right direction .
“ New Zealand once again leads the world – this time with a cutting-edge smoke-free 2025 implementation plan – it ’ s truly a game changer ,” Dr Natalie Walker , director of the Centre for Addiction Research at University of Auckland , told the Guardian .
Some hope the decisions made in Malaysia and New Zealand will act as catalysts for pushing other governments to follow suit .
“ This would be an amazing example or a template — like an experiment , right ? If it works there , then definitely there is a chance it will work elsewhere ,” Dr Wael Al- Delaimy , an epidemiologist at the University of California San Diego , told NPR .
Others , however , oppose the ban , arguing that authorities shouldn ’ t dictate to people how to live their lives , while stressing that the legislation will create a flourishing black market in tobacco products .
“ Banning popular substances has unintended consequences , as alcohol prohibition once showed in America , and the war on drugs shows nearly everywhere today ,” wrote the Economist . “ The market moves underground . Criminals take over . Supplies are no longer regulated , so quality suffers : all manner of harmful extras may be added . Worse , criminal gangs make so much money from prohibition that they corrupt governments and fight bloody battles with each other over turf .”
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