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The government has lost the first battle in curbing smoking habit and the Health Minister should prepare a White Paper in the coming Parliament session and suggest to the cabinet to form a Parliamentary Select Committee on Tobacco Control.

Media Statement
by Lau Weng San

(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The Ministry decision to defer an anticipated ban on 14-stick cigarette packs until 2010 (which is said to appeal to young people due to lower price) to help tobacco farmers in several states is most unsatisfactory when Health Minister Chua Soi Lek said that “tobacco farmers in Terengganu and Kelantan have been unable to move on to other cash crops and they need a longer period for adjustment”.

The Minister’s statement not only marks another government’s policy failure which witness another improper public policy planning whereby the whole “Tak Nak” campaign has already consumed at least RM 20 million of taxpayers’ money in its first year budget, but also indirectly implies that the government has “lost the first battle” in curbing smoking habit among Malaysians.

As reported in the media recently, when the “Tak Nak” campaign first started in February 2004, numerous billboards and media advertisements had been set up and money were spent for advertising the campaign nationwide. Malaysians also anticipate fruitful results after spending so much money on the campaign, which should be resulted in a lowering smoker number throughout the period.

Therefore, the government must at least explain further to the public:

  1. Since the government has decided to defer the ban on 14-stick cigarette packs till 2010, is the government claiming that it requires 5 years to arrange tobacco farmers in Kelantan and Terengganu to be fully moved to other cash crops? If it is so, why is this not considered in the first place when the government earlier decided to ban 14-stick cigarette packs starting mid-2005?
  2. It is reported that there are currently 13,000 tobacco farmers in Kelantan and Terengganu. By making such statement, is the Minister telling us that the health of the public and the youth can be sacrificed in order to save the livings of 13,000 tobacco farmers in Kelantan and Terengganu?
  3. If it is so, then there must be some simple calculations to be done in order to justify the decision of the government to defer an anticipated ban on 14-stick cigarette packs.
    1. First, the ministry should come out with a figure on:

      -Expected extra medical expenses from 2005 to 2010 on cigarette-related diseases i.e. lung cancer.

      -Money spent on buying/consuming cigarettes among youth aged from 18 to 30 (who is financially unstable and can only consume small cigarette packs) expected from 2005 to 2010.
    1. Secondly, the ministry should also come out with a figure on how exactly the negative monetary impact will be on the tobacco farmers if the ministry were to impose such ban June 2006 onwards?
    2. In order to justify the ministry’s decision to defer the ban till 2010, the figure on (b) must be greater that the figure on (a). But to date, these figures are not publicly revealed, thus causing doubts from the people of whether such decision is made because of “commercial pressure” exerted on the government.

Without such figures and comparisons, there is no way that the government can decide on the deferment, as this is an important decision which most importantly affects the financial stability and health of our young Malaysians. Added to the worries is the 2-fold increment of female smokers in Malaysia for the past 10 years.

Based on these background understandings and now added with the deferment, the government has clearly disappointed many health-conscious Malaysian that the government has lost the fist battle to curb smoking habit especially on the youth while at the same time wasting millions of ringgit in the" Tak Nak" campaign which is not properly planned.

The Health Ministers should therefore present a white paper on this issue and Chua Soi Lek should propose to set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on tobacco control to show its commitment to curb smoking habit among Malaysians since Malaysia has decided this month to ratify the International Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.


* Lau Weng San, DAPSY Assistant Publicity Secretary

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