Data the key to fighting tobacco firms, says Wong Chen

(Left to right) Selangor health exco Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud, Klang MP Charles Santiago, Princess Dina Mirad of Jordan, Subang Jaya MP Wong Chen and NSCM president Dr Saunthari Somasundaram.

PETALING JAYA: Subang Jaya MP Wong Chen today highlighted data gathering as one of the most important tools in the war against cancer.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference on the status of world cancer control here today, he said data would help anti-tobacco advocates form strong arguments against big tobacco corporations.

This, coupled with efforts to limit corruption, would make it difficult for lobbyists to have any influence over government policies, he added.

“The real test for the new government is if it can resist the influence of corporations in decision-making. That must be driven by data, internally, independent and free from undue influence,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s Princess Dina Mirad, who is also president of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), said the government needed to be taught that there was more money in banning tobacco than in allowing tobacco corporations to continue.

“Studies have shown that low- and middle-income countries that invest in anti-tobacco activities save billions in treatment costs,” she said.

“The tragedy is that thanks to the World Health Organisation (WHO), we already have all the plans and know what we need to do. We just need to do it.”

She said countries in Europe and America had already made progress on the matter while countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East were still too afraid to move away from tobacco.

“They are taxing salt and trans fat. We, the few, are still arguing over whether to stop people from smoking or not.”

National Cancer Society of Malaysia (NCSM) president Dr Saunthari Somasundaram, who was also present, said everything the government needed to know about how to combat cancer was already in WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of which Malaysia is a signatory.

“Everything from limiting the use of tobacco through taxes, how to deal with those who sell tobacco, enforcement, illegal trade, all these things are covered. The FCTC gives the government greater strength in terms of enacting policies,” she said.

Klang MP Charles Santiago also urged the government to stop signing on to trade agreements with other countries that bump up the cost of medicine.

“Why are prices high? Because our governments are signing on to free trade agreements that have clauses on intellectual property rights.

“Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said he wants to relook the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and I think one of the things he needs to look at is intellectual property rights,” he said.