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World Health Day 2024: Empowering Change Through Alternatives to Combat Smoking’s Grip

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Source: Provided to WOB

Every year, World Health Day emphasises on a specific health issue, serving as a global movement to raise awareness and advocate for meaningful action. While many concerns have been highlighted over the years, some continue to persist and pose a significant threat to public health. Among these persistent issues is smoking, an unhealthy habit that remains pervasive globally and in Malaysia.

Despite efforts to reduce smoking rates and mitigate its harmful effects, smoking remains a challenge that demands continued attention and action. The National Health & Morbidity Survey 2022 reports a decline in the use of tobacco products among adolescents in Malaysia in 2022 (18.5%), and yet Malaysian adolescents still have higher use of tobacco products compared to countries such as Indonesia (13.6%), Thailand (14.4%), Philippines (15.8%) and Brunei (17.8%). The survey also gave an estimated amount of 129,102 cigarette smokers among adolescents in our country in 2022.

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Smoking is widely recognised as a harmful habit, but understanding precisely why it’s detrimental to our health is crucial. Some believe that the risks come from the nicotine or tobacco found in cigarettes, but the real culprit lies in the process of burning the cigarette and the resulting smoke. According to the American Lung Association, a cigarette contains more than 7,000 chemicals when burned, and at least 69 of these chemicals are toxic and can cause cancer. Apart from cancer, cigarette smoking can also lead to other health issues such as heart disease, lung disease, and more.

Even though many of us are aware of how risky smoking is, a lot of smokers struggle to kick the habit right away, mainly because of the addictive nature of nicotine in cigarettes. That is why it is crucial to consider smoke-free alternatives as a bridge to help these smokers stop cigarette smoking for good.

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Two smoke-free alternatives that are commonly found in the local market right now are e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs). Both are safer alternatives than cigarettes as they do not combust and produce smoke. Instead, e-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine while HTPs heat tobacco at lower temperatures to release the nicotine and flavours from the tobacco. Compared to cigarette smoking, the toxicant level is significantly reduced in e-cigarettes and HTPs. Smokers can also consider oral smokeless products such as nicotine pouches and snus. These are products that deliver nicotine to users without going through the combustion process.

While the ideal scenario remains complete cessation, we need to consider the reality of addiction and the challenge of instant quitting. The journey to a smoke-free nation requires practical solutions, like switching to smoke-free alternatives. By doing so, cigarette smokers are at least taking a proactive stance in mitigating the harm caused by cigarette smoke and residue. This will also bring about broader societal benefits, reducing the prevalence of secondhand smoke and related health risks for non-smokers.

So, what is stopping cigarette smokers from switching over? In an international survey conducted by PMI in 2022, 62% of respondents agreed that with more knowledge of smoke-free alternatives and how they differ from cigarettes, they are more likely to switch to these alternatives. This also indicates that many cigarette smokers aren’t aware of the differences between smoke-free products and cigarettes, especially how the former is less harmful in the long run.

Apart from that, there are also many misconceptions regarding smoke-free products. As mentioned earlier, many individuals believe that nicotine is the main factor in smoking-related diseases. Some also believe that smoke-free products are equally harmful, when in fact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also stated that emissions from HTPs have lower levels of harmful ingredients than cigarette smoke. In short, education and awareness regarding smoke-free products is important for us to progress towards a smoke-free nation.

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With incremental changes, it is more likely for Malaysia to achieve its goal to be smoke-free by 2040. It distances smokers and non-smokers from smoking-related diseases, and will also reduce air pollution. Therefore, let’s take one step at a time, starting with World Health Day. Reach for the healthy lifestyle you’ve always wanted, and turn away from cigarette smoking.

 

Also read: Nicotine is Not the Root of All Evil? Here’s Why There’s More to it Than it Seems

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