ONE in four Malaysians smokes.
Even more alarmingly, 20 per cent of the country's six million cigarette smokers are aged between 12 and 18.
Public Health Specialist Association of Malaysia president Professor Dr Syed Mohamed Aljunid said: "We must seriously look into this problem. If not curbed, it will lead to major public health problems because smoking is a precursor to diseases such as lung cancer, chronic airway diseases, hypertension, gastric ulcers and heart diseases.'' Studies show that men who smoke cut their lives short by 13.2 years on average, and female smokers lose 14.5 years.
Dr Syed Mohamed noted that Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (HUKM) had launched a pilot project in 2002 in 48 secondary schools in Hulu Langat to educate schoolchildren on the dangers of smoking, and to get those already smoking to quit.
But the problem was that many children started smoking when they were in Standard Six.
"This is a worrying trend," he said.
Dr Syed Mohamed attributed the rise in teenage smoking to several factors, including poor enforcement of regulations, direct and indirect cigarette advertisements, stress at school and home, peer pressure, and cheap cigarettes.
He said that due to the stringent laws and measures in developed countries on the sale of cigarettes to minors, tobacco companies were targeting countries such as Malaysia, China and Indonesia to promote their products to the young.
He said the Government's effort to create awareness on the dangers of smoking was a good initiative but there was a serious need to create a self-help avenue for smokers through a "Quit Hotline".
He said anti-smoking campaigns and media publicity would not be a deterrent if the Government did not act against those selling cigarettes to schoolchildren.
Parent site: "Focus on Malaysia"