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Enough is enough

IN the fight against the dangerous drug menace, which has been an intractable problem in the country for decades, education is key.

This is opportune as news of a dominant tobacco-related company reportedly “closing down its manufacturing facility” near the capital city cannot be more encouraging.

Couple this with the claim that “the sale of the land” and that the shareholders have endorsed the move, the reason to enhance the role of education is even more.

After all, tobacco-related products, namely cigarettes, are addictive and are dubbed the “gateway” to drug abuse. This is the first important lesson.

If the deputy prime minister-cum-home minister expressed shock when he learned that children as young as 7 were hooked on drugs, he would be devastated to know that this is “normal”.

Statistics show that the starting age for smokers is getting lower over the years, not just among men but women, too.

So, the “closure” of any tobacco manufacturing and sales outlets must be taken as a sign of success.

It is virtually impossible to justify, in educational terms, how such an industry continues to bring “value” to its shareholders when it takes away the lives of those who use its products or, otherwise, markedly destroy their quality of life due to diseases as a result of smoking.

The tobacco industry has admitted this by displaying the gruesome pictures on the packaging.

Similarly, no government should allow its citizens to suffer at the hands of such an unconscionable company that eventually kills its customers. Our government acted by hiking the prices of cigarettes.

Between 2013 and last year, three rounds of excise hikes were recorded — 14, 12 and 36 per cent.

Research has indicated, over and over again, that putting prices beyond the reach of smokers and potential ones is one of the most effective ways of tobacco control worldwide.

The rationale is that the number of those “dying” when deprived of cigarettes in no way comes close to the number who are sure to die prematurely from smoking, including children. Still, the prices of cigarettes in Malaysia are not high enough to have that impact.

While the industry claims that the move leads to widespread distribution of illicit cigarettes, this is surely part of its tactics to keep prices low.

Blowing up the argument about cost and revenue loss from such illicit sales has always been done at the expense of conveniently ignoring the “loss” and “cost” incurred in paying high and long-term health bills arising from smoking.

Hence, the recent report that police busted a Johor-linked tobacco-smuggling activity worth more than RM25 million must be applauded and those involved be recognised, if not rewarded, just like how the smugglers are “incentivised” by their paymasters.

The main counterpoint here is often “corruption” will make the action against smuggling more elusive.

In short, all parties fighting in the tobacco killing field must be highly ethical and professional in educating the “sacredness” of life.

In the final analysis, if the drug war is to be won, it must have educational perspectives all the way, by pointing out the flaws in the arguments and systems, and demonstrating that tobacco can be effectively controlled, if not eliminated, as the “gateway” substance.

The time has come to frame this into a new strategy with the “retreat” of a dominant tobacco company. It sets the scene for a new narrative sans tobacco in our midst and telling it as it is for all kinds of addictive drugs, ranging from tobacco to the latest there is, including vaping.

There are no two ways about it. As the saying goes, good riddance to bad rubbish. Enough is enough.

DZULKIFLI ABDUL RAZAK, Honorary professor at University of Nottingham and principal fellow at Faculty of Leadership and Management at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia

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