Royal decree to ban vaping?

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
My View - The Sun Daily
December 10, 2015

WHILE helming the National Poisons Centre at Universiti Sains Malaysia as its founder-director in the 1990s, "tobacco control" was introduced as one of its main activities, although it is not typical of Poisons Centres internationally. The scientific rationale for the initiative was simple: "Tobacco" is a poison no matter how it is defined.

Ultimately it kills as recognised by the World Health Organisation. And often in agonising ways due to long-term illnesses like cancer or otherwise a myriad of major ailments. Many of these are now vividly displayed on tobacco boxes.

Tobacco is also a poison by virtue of the hundreds of chemicals, including latent ones, present in a cigarette. The toxic chemicals range from those that are used as toilet cleaners to that found in car exhaust fumes. There is also tar, no different to the one used to pave roads, whereas the nicotine that is always associated with tobacco use is not only addictive, but also an effective poison for insects like roaches.

The irony is despite all these and more, it remains a "legal" product sold with virtually no restriction, and requiring no special licence to do so.

Even more ironic is that it is a cash crop in poorer parts of the country. In other words, there is no way that we can seriously contemplate banning tobacco, let alone get rid of the deadly product despite lamenting that millions of Malaysians are dying due to pre-mature deaths. And that the number of youngsters using tobacco products are increasing with younger age groups, including females being hooked. Proposals to grow substitute crops are met with lip service.

So we continue to lag behind our neighbours in terms of curbing the deadly habit of smoking as though we are helpless to care enough in safeguarding the welfare of our citizens.

On top of that, millions of ringgit are being wasted treating illnesses caused by preventable tobacco hazards, not counting the innocent lives that are lost year in, year out, including due to fire.

The adage – prevention is better than cure somehow is not relevant when it comes to anything tobacco. Instead we take the trouble to legislate "daun ketum" as a "dangerous drug" knowing full well that "daun tembakau" is a proven killer. This does not add up and no one is held accountable for this long-term human tragedy.

So when vape comes into the picture the chaos is not unexpected. The tardiness in making a firm decision is reminiscent of the old lackadaisical ways when it comes to anything tobacco! Even after a two-month "yet-to-decide" grace period, there is no clear decision on the vape issue. Instead, there was confusion when the vape sellers were harassed, and their goods seized.

Fortunately, it was later retracted. Then, the sultan of Johor stepped in calling to ban vape outlets citing "health concerns" which the Health Ministry could only laud. Unlike the Johor government that confirmed it would prohibit the sale of vape products from Jan 1, the official stance of the Health Ministry remains non-committal.

In contrast, Johor announced the enactment of a by-law to prohibit the sale of vape products since the outlets are operating under convenience store licences. After the date, traders who sell electronic cigarettes will face a fine of up to RM2,000 and risk having their licences revoked and goods confiscated.

What is baffling is that how is it that the Johor royalty seems to be more proactive and protective of the health and welfare of its citizens when everyone is looking up to the Ministry of Health for leadership and guidance. Ever since my tenure at the Poisons Centre I am envious of other countries that are decisive in banning things associated with tobacco. So too in the case of vape as done by our northern and southern neighbours.

Now that Johor has done the same, I am even more bothered that the ministry cannot do so nationally for some reasons? Perhaps it is easier for the Sultan of Johor to convince the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to decree similar banning of vape nationwide? At least future generations can be better protected until the ministry is ready to act.

With some four decades of experience in education locally and internationally, the writer believes that "another world is possible".