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Ban ‘kiddie packs’ to save our children

August 29, 2017

Why tempt more kids to experiment, start and sustain their addiction to smoking with premium kiddie packs and become lifelong customers of the tobacco industry?

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dr-Saunthari-Somasundaram-1

Dr Saunthari Somasundaram

We know we live in confusing times when a product that kills six million people every year is offered as an alternative to its illicit counterpart.

Last week, a few news outlets reported that the Malaysian government was considering bringing back “kiddie packs” – smaller packs of cigarettes. Kiddie packs of 10, being more affordable, are designed to reel in “low consumption” smokers, such as casual or social smokers, women, and children.

They have been banned by the governments of many countries – including Malaysia in 2010 – and rightfully so. “Kiddie packs”, once legalised, will be priced cheap, packaged attractively, and displayed prominently – all of which appeal to children.

Studies have shown that exposure to cigarettes, such as how it is currently displayed in our coffee shops and convenient stores, combined with price discounts, increases the probability of youths smoking.

Experts worldwide also state that most adult smokers started when they were teenagers, and this is supported by a study of young smokers conducted by the National Cancer Society Malaysia in 2016.

Among the 143 teenagers surveyed, it was revealed 70% started smoking between 12 to 15 years old. Close to 60% did not even enjoy smoking, and tried to quit without success.

These children also underestimated the addictive power of nicotine: close to 50% said they didn’t think they would still be smoking in a year. Only 25% thought it would be difficult for someone to quit once they started.

Do we really want to tempt more kids to experiment, start and sustain their addiction with premium kiddie packs? Do we want more victims to develop a lifetime addiction, or in other words, become lifelong customers of the tobacco industry?

Those arguing for kiddie packs would have us believe that anyone against these small packs support illicit cigarettes. But the alternative to illicit cigarettes is not legal cigarettes.

ALL cigarettes are lethal.

The alternative to illicit and legal cigarettes is about not taking up the habit of smoking in the first place.

This is why we need to reduce society’s access to cigarettes (licensing), decrease their affordability (price hike) as well as their appeal (plain packaging).

The alternative to increased tax revenue if we have “kiddie packs” is enforcing tobacco control laws to safeguard the healthcare, development and economy of Malaysia. In the long run, taxpayers and the government will save millions on treating diseases caused or worsened by smoking, including 16 types of cancer, heart, lung, diabetes and mental illnesses.

The alternative to derailing every tobacco control measure proposed is putting the health of Malaysians first. It is about rallying everyone to support the work – and deferring to the expertise as well as experience – of our health ministry and the World Health Organisation.

This week, we will celebrate our 60th Independence Day, as well as our successful hosting of the SEA games. Don’t fall for the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument: it undermines your intelligence, the hard work of the ministries who are enforcing tobacco control, and the will of those who want to – and can – quit.

Being pragmatic is having all sectors and industries – trade, customs, finance, education, youth, retailers, non-governmental organisations – uniting against an industry that has caused harm and taken lives for decades.

Doing better is a choice. Let us do better to protect our future generation by keeping kiddie packs off our shelves.

Dr Saunthari Somasundaram is Medical Director and President of the National Cancer Society Malaysia.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

Retail body says small packs can curb illicit cigarette trade


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