“Reconsider GEG if we want to reduce smoking prevalence”

THE Malaysia Society for Harm Reduction (MSHR) and Advanced Centre for Addiction Treatment Advocacy (ACATA) today urged the Health Ministry (MOH) to rethink their decision to move forward with the generational endgame (GEG).

While both MSHR and ACATA are encouraged by the government’s commitment to reduce smoking prevalence in the country, a harsh ban that includes harm-reduced products such as vaping is counter-productive.

Both organisations were commenting in response to the recent announcement by KKM of the decision to table the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill.

“The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats to the world, killing more than 8 million people a year, including around 1.2 million deaths from exposure to secondhand smoke. It kills 27,200 Malaysians annually,” said ACATA president Dr Arifin Fii.

Dr Arifin Fii

“There is substantial and credible evidence to support that vape products are much less harmful than smoking. Evidence also shows that vaping efficiently helps smokers quit.”

According to him, studies have shown that the percentage of never smokers who take up vaping is significantly small. A local study in 2020 in Malaysia found that only 0.6% of non-smokers use vape, debunking the fact that vape appeals to new users.

Dr Ariffin stated that it is imperative that the MOH conduct thorough studies and verify the data points available to the ministry before implementing GEG.

However, many of the studies and data put forth by the MOH contains erroneous information.

“For example, in recent reports it was said that over 30 cases of EVALI have been reported to MOH so far. This is untrue. These 30 cases are not confirmed cases, as EVALI has only been confirmed in the United States and nowhere else in the world,” added Dr Arifin.

Meanwhile, MSHR chairman who is also Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia community health physician and health economics specialist Prof Dr Sharifa Ezat Wan Puteh pointed out that even then, the way to manage the probability of incidences like EVALI is not through prohibition but regulations, as a complete ban will push smokers and vapers further underground.

“Comprehensive information must be carefully evaluated or we risk making biased decisions. For those who do not smoke or have successfully quit smoking (using NRT etc.), then there is no need for them to start using vape,” she said.

“If vape is allowed to be used amongst smokers, it can provide benefits in terms of reducing the harms of tobacco and lowering the population of smokers.

“This is in line with the progress of other developed countries such as New Zealand, Japan and the UK which have recorded a decline in the prevalence of smoking. Data show that those who are dual smokers have reduced their cigarette consumption, while vaping at the same time.”

Furthermore, Prof Sharifa added that the rate of smokers in Malaysia will decrease from 4.88 million in 2019 to four million in 20251 due to various reasons including the use of vape based on estimates.

“These statistics are in line with data from several countries that allow the use of vaping as a strategy to reduce the risk of tobacco use, in addition to the standard treatment using nicotine replacement therapy.

“This is an undeniable fact, as currently, there are more and more smokers switching to vape or heat-not-burn products in Malaysia, in an effort to quit smoking. However, these products need pragmatic regulations and control.” — May 26, 2023

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