June 28, 2022

Prioritise protection of health

3 min read

THE Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) applauds the decision by the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on Oct 29 to dismiss the challenge against the smoking ban in eateries. It shows that Malaysia has set a high precedence in prioritising the health of its people, and is a major step in protecting non-smokers from secondhand smoke, of which there is no safe level of exposure.

Worldwide, among the six million people killed by tobacco use each year, 600,000 are non-smokers who were exposed to secondhand smoke.

Hundreds of chemicals in secondhand smoke are toxic – even breathing in a little puts us at 20% to 30% higher risk of developing heart diseases, stroke and lung cancer.

Infants and children are especially vulnerable: Secondhand smoke increases a baby’s risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and a child’s risk of being sick frequently, suffer asthma attacks and ear infections, and smaller lung growth, leading to bronchitis and pneumonia.

A local study involving 3,270 non-smoking adults revealed that 67% of the respondents were exposed to secondhand smoke in public areas at least once. Exposure was higher among men than women, and among those who lived in urban areas, had tertiary education and higher income. The exposure to secondhand smoke was also four times higher in non-gazetted public areas than in restricted areas.

This number is alarming for a country in which the vast majority – 90% according to the National Health Morbidity Survey 2015 – are non-smokers. It shows that nobody, regardless of their socio-economic status, is protected from secondhand smoke and how smoking in public endangers the lives of so many others and infringes on their right to good health and clean air.

The High Court’s decision to sustain the ban of smoking in eateries also benefits the development and economy of the country. Exposure to secondhand smoke alone costs the United States over US$5bil in direct medical costs each year, and another US$5bil in disability payments, lost wages and other indirect medical costs.

Another example is Hong Kong, which loses US$156mil each year to direct medical costs, loss of productivity, and long term care.

On the other hand, limiting exposure to secondhand smoke results in immediate health benefits, which in turn increases productivity. A study in the US that explored the effects of smoke-free laws on workers in the hospitality industry found that they had:

> Significantly better lung health within three to six months;

> Lowered tobacco-specific substances that lead to cancer in their lungs (compared with workers in non-smoke-free bars and restaurants); and

> Decreased their exposure to secondhand smoke from 90% to 14% in just 12 months, with improved eye, nose and throat health.

As a signatory to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty that reaffirms everyone’s right to the highest standard of health, the government of Malaysia is obliged to protect all of its citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke as detailed in Article 8. This includes indoor places, public transport and “as appropriate, other places”.

In fact, there is no “right to smoke” in the Federal Constitution, hence smokers are not a specially protected category of people. Within individual rights, protection of life and health should be prioritised.