By Dr Helmy Haja Mydin. Published in New Straits Times 13 January 2017
We are now almost halfway into the first month of the New Year, and some are holding strong to their resolutions.
They range from mundane to fantastic aims; from limiting oneself to only one packet of nasi lemak a week, to finally packing enough courage to ask the opposite sex out for a date.
Many smokers tend to use the New Year as a marker to quit their habit. As surveys have found that 50 per cent of current smokers intend to quit, many used the opportunity to throw away their packs of cigarettes after the clock struck midnight to start afresh physically and metaphorically.
To quit smoking is not easy. There is a belief that smoking is an individual choice, but I am of a different school of thought.
For many, quitting is not an act for themselves, but for their loved ones. It is undeniable that tobacco smoke has adverse effects on the people around the smokers.
One of the most devastating statistics is the high number of deaths from secondhand smoke. There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure; even brief exposure can be harmful to health.
In the United States alone, more than 50,000 people die every year from secondhand smoke.
The effects of cigarette smoke on adults are familiar — from lung cancer to heart attacks — and children are the worse affected.
No drug-user would want their children to become addicts, but yet many are unaware that smoking around little ones can cause them respiratory symptoms, ear infections, frequent and severe asthma attacks, and even a great risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
It is with this in mind that Scotland recently introduced a new law making it illegal to smoke in a car when someone under age 18 is on board. Failure to comply can result in an on-the-spot fine of up to £1,000 (RM5,471).
Such laws are in keeping with global public health trends. Curbing smoking in public and enclosed areas allow greater protection of the rights of non-smokers to clean air, especially children, who are unable to speak up for themselves.
The same concept applies to electronic cigarettes and vaping. Although arguably not as toxic as conventional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes are known to contain chemicals and irritants that damage respiratory airways and DNA.
In other words, it is still unsafe for both users and non-users.
It is telling that a recent survey conducted by the International Islamic University of Malaysia found that 92 per cent of Malaysians would like restrictions on vaping to be similar to those of smoking, and two-thirds wanted electronic cigarettes to be banned.
Although the latter is not feasible, restricting the use of vapourisers will go a long way towards ensuring that children do not become addicted to nicotine. The government has a responsibility towards ensuring that the health of the people is protected — after all, they are the country’s greatest asset.
Part of this includes protecting non-smokers from cigarette smoke and vapours, and to discourage smoking in the presence of children. Laws aimed at ensuring that public places are smoke-free should be strictly enforced.
It is worth ending with a statement from the World Health Organisation regarding health and human rights.
“The right to health includes both freedoms and entitlements. Freedoms include the right to control one’s health and body and to be free from interference. Entitlements include the right to a system of health protection that gives everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy the highest attainable level of health.
“Health policies and programmes have the ability to either promote or violate human rights, including the right to health, depending on the way they are designed or implemented.