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Malaysia: Days of puffing away definitely numbered

taknakLast updated: April 9, 2010

Source: New Straits Times

If there is a strong indication that cigarette smoking in Malaysia is steadily being transformed into a strict taboo, just like pre- or extra-marital sex, drug abuse and public boozing, take a look at pictures of people holding a cigarette or cigar in imported magazines like Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire and Vanity Fair.

Notice how the offensive lighted object has been blackened out by censors the same way women showing generous cleavage is annoyingly marker-penned, though mercifully better than the impertinent page being ignominiously torn off.

Cigarette smoking is among a few final but legal vices available without fear of police intervention, unless you are the wholesaler smuggling in a boatload of duty-free cartons and retailing them at premium prices.

For cigarette smokers nationwide, your days of congenital puffing are breathtakingly numbered, first by being chased out of restaurants, air-conditioned shopping malls and government buildings, followed by stiffer imposition of sales tax and duties, and now the ban on the ubiquitous 14-pack, announced on Monday by Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai in the Dewan Rakyat.

Ironically, Liow’s declaration of the ban is generations too late. Whatever the health authority or the anti-smoking lobby had sternly pronounced, smoking is still an act of cool savagery, at least to the impressionable taken in by pop culture icons lighting a fag in stylish whiffs.

But tell that to teenagers who picked up the habit as easily as their pop culture icons. Then see their eyes rolled and their lips debouching a boorish “whatever” when you caution them on the fatal ill-effects smoking can cause.

Or tell that to the unrepentant chain smoker who will posit this tenuous allegory: put non-smokers in a pub full of smokers and the worst that will happen is mild suffocation or headache. But put an automobile belching carbon monoxide in the same pub, everyone dies. So, why don’t the authorities ban automobiles?

Let’s make this absolutely clear: smoking will eventually kill or incapacitate, depending on how strong your lungs are. If not now, then much later when your addiction to caffeine (or pig haemoglobin if one report is to be believed) is beyond redemption.

The authorities must be prepared for the ban’s seedy side-effect — illicitly secured cigarettes would be the prime activity, the same way drugs are trafficked. Might a regular health issue escalate into criminalisation?

Nonetheless, teenagers, targets of this push for a healthy lifestyle and eradication of social ills agenda, will learn to adapt, notwithstanding the exorbitant 20-pack prices now.

To pay for their smokes, they will cut down on other exorbitant costs — luxury apparel and cellphone texting and yakking.

They will budget themselves because it is in the youngsters social DNA to smoke, at least in public.

The only hope is that they will quit the killer habit before they hit middle age and hope they survive smoking’s debilitating symptoms.

But know this: smoking is also playing Russian roulette. If you are fortunate, you’ll be puffing away until you roll into your octogenarian years, your lungs intact but your other body parts diseased.

Or you could be coughing blood one day in your forties, fifties or sixties, lung cancer the inevitable diagnosis, followed by the dreary treatment of radio therapy and chemotherapy before you waste away and die.

Written by Asmi Anshar

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