WHY KIDDIE PACKS SHOULD NOT BE REINTRODUCED

The Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) urges the government not to buckle under the tobacco industry pressure to introduce ‘kiddie packs’.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “tobacco kills a third to half of all people who use it, on average 15 years prematurely”. This is a reason important enough to stop entertaining the industry.

Under what circumstances must the government give in to the industry and its front groups comprising non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and trade associations such as the four national associations to advance their cause of reintroducing the 10-stick packs? There is none.

In fact Malaysia is a party to WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control since 2005 and the banning of “kiddie packs” is in line with FCTC’s Article 16. Malaysia cannot backtrack without being seen as an FCTC outcast.

Early this month, four associations – Malaysia-Singapore Coffeeshop Proprietors General Association (MSCSPGA), Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas), Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma), and the Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants Association of Malaysia (FSGMAM) – declared their support for the reintroduction of ‘kiddie packs’.

We are not surprised that these associations had placed profit before the health of the people. They argued that the ban on small packs for the past 10 years had not addressed the problem of smoking among youth had not declined. Smuggling of cheap cigarettes have been blamed for the increase in smoking prevalence. However, due to the addictive nature of tobacco, the reduction of tobacco consumption can only be expected in the long-term as it will not decline drastically within the next few decades from public health efforts.

The slow decline of smoking prevalence has been used by the industry and the trade associations in wanting the government to give up its efforts that will save the health and lives of millions of Malaysians. On the contrary, the government should step up efforts in curbing smuggling activities by introducing mandatory jail sentence and confiscating the assets of those involved and mandatory jail term for those who are caught selling them.

A study in 2005 found that RM2.92 billion was spent for treating three of the commonest smoking-related diseases (cancer of the lung, ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). How are the four associations that claimed to represent 40,000 cigarette retailers nationwide explain to the families whose loved ones had died or dying from smoking-related diseases that require expensive treatment?

As for Presma, the Quran stated explicitly that anything that harms the body is haram and the injurious properties of tobacco smoke are well substantiated by scientific research, including those conducted by the industry itself. Industry documents showed that it knew about the link between smoking and cancer in early 1950s but it publicly denies this fact as a means to salvage cigarette sales.

Moreover, there is a fatwa issued in 1996 that prohibits smoking but only Selangor and Kedah have announced that smoking is haram. Many mosques are already smoke-free and Muslims are encouraged to try giving up smoking during the Puasa month. Hence, Presma should seize this opportunity and be the torchbearer of the fatwa rather than to encourage smoking.

The term ‘kiddie packs’ is a taboo word for the industry but whatever it calls these less-than-20-stick cigarette packs, the industry’s objective to replace sick and dying smokers with new crops of smokers comprising youth and women remains.

Tobacco and its products are paradoxical. Nicotine, found naturally in tobacco leaves, is highly toxic (classified as Class C poison under the Poisons Act, and the Control of Drugs and Cosmetics Regulations) and is more addictive than cocaine or heroin. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 70 cancer-causing ones, and tobacco products are certainly not food items yet they are regulated by the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations within the Food Act.

We want to reiterate our stand in the sale of cigarettes because the money spent on this addictive habit could have been used on family needs. There should be no pity for cigarette smugglers and retailers of such illicit cigarettes because they are just as guilty as those who sell addictive drugs, slowly killing the users. The health of non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke is endangered too.

Tobacco products must only be sold by licensed tobacconists, not by retailers, since tobacco products should be categorised as controlled products as they are highly addictive, kill when used as intended, and also kill passive smokers.

Letter to the Editor, 25 September 2017

Ban vaping in hotels and other public places as well

The government recently announced the intention to ban smoking in hotels by end of 2016 and subsequently extend it to other public places. Hoteliers from the Malaysian Association of Hotels, however, wondered if the Tobacco Control and Smoking Bill will provide designated smoking zones. Until the implementation of the ban, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) stands firm that the government must not accede to any appeals to designate smoking areas such as cigar bars.
A complete ban on indoor smoking is in-line with Article 8 of the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). By allowing designating smoking zones the health of the employees and non-smokers in the building would be jeopardised.

The government should also consider banning e-cigarettes just like what Thailand and Singapore did because it is currently unregulated. By definition, e-cigarettes include e-pens, e-hookah and e-cigars and they are collectively known as electronic nicotine delivery systems. These devices, used by about a million Malaysians, are not regulated as they are not within the ambit of Food Act 1983 and therefore there are no safety checks or requirements.

According to the American Lung Association, it is almost impossible to regulate e-cigarettes and e-liquids because there are nearly 500 brands and 7,700 flavours on the American market and there is no way for anyone to know what chemicals are contained in the e-liquids or how the chemicals are going to affect one’s health over time. Most of the e-liquid refills sold in Malaysia do not stipulate the chemicals used and e-liquids are also produced locally as the concoctions are relatively easy to prepare.

Studies in the US showed that e-cigarette’s aerosol also contain carcinogens such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde and heavy metals such as cadmium, nickel and lead. Some products that claim to be nicotine-free still may contain the drug. According to tests conducted in 2014 by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), the amount of nicotine delivered by e-cigarettes of the same brand and strength showed little consistency.

The main ingredient in e-liquids is propylene glycol which has been touted as GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). But conveniently ignoring the fact that the USA-based Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) clarified that “we have little information about what happens to propylene glycol in the air”. The GRAS status granted by FDA was in fact for “use in flavourings, drugs, and cosmetics, and as a direct food additive”.

Similarly, e-liquid flavours that use food ingredients are said to be safe. However, such claims are misleading because even the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States (FEMA) distanced itself from e-cigarettes, stating: “FEMA GRASTM status for the use of flavor ingredients in food does not mean that FEMA GRASTM flavor ingredients are safe for use in e-cigarettes”.

If the government is serious about public health CAP reiterates its calls for a complete ban on e-cigarettes and vaping because they are unsafe and, particularly the e-liquids which are difficult to regulate.

 

Press statement, 28 March 2016

Avoid meat to save ourselves and planet earth

The Consumers Association of Penang calls on consumers to avoid eating meat for the benefit of our health and environment.

A latest study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) found “sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of meat especially processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

 

The category includes meat that has been salted, cured, fermented or smoked – hot dogs, sausages, corned beef, dried meat, canned meat or meat-based sauces. The finding supports “recommendations to limit intake of meat” – particularly in processed forms, said the IARC.

Rising prosperity has allowed people throughout the world to eat more meat and Malaysia is no exception. Our per capita consumption of meat has increased from 13.2 kg in 1961 to 52.35 kg in 2009. With rising income, it is projected that Malaysian consumers will eat even more meat in the future.

Eating more meat enhances our chances of getting sick or dying early. Health statistics consistently show that nations which consume the most meat have the highest incidence of heart disease and cancer.
Studies have also indicated that consumers who consume animal products are 40% more susceptible to cancer and are at increased risk for other illnesses including stroke, obesity appendicitis, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes and food poisoning.

Besides the heath effects of eating meat, many consumers do not see the magnitude of the environmental impact caused by their meat consumption.

There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact than livestock farming. Some 40% of the world’s land surface is used for growing food crops, most of which are used to feed animals. Globally livestock farming generates 18 % more greenhouse gases than transport. Some 70% of the Amazon forests have been deforested for grazing animals.

To get meat an animal has to be slaughtered. Abattoirs are highly industralised production lines with semi-skilled workers toiling in poor conditions. Some of the slaughterhouses are capable of slaughtering 85,000 head of cattle, 70,000 pigs, and 12 million birds daily. The industry is hidden from view. Animal-rights groups are questioning the ethics of the slaughter industry.

We have destroyed vast ecosystems and drained massive resources to support the world’s burgeoning livestock herds. Food, water and land resources are directed away from human consumption to feed these animals. These animals produce enormous quantities of waste such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, drug residues, disease-causing organisms and heavy metals to pollute our water system.

Producing meat is also most inefficient. To produce one kilogram of beef, one needs 6.5 kilograms of grain, 36 kilograms of roughage, and 15,500 cubic meters of water.

70% of antibiotics produced globally are used for livestock animals. Antibiotics perform two functions: they help animals survive the dismal conditions until slaughter, and they make the animals grow faster. According to WHO, more antibiotics are fed to healthy animals than to human beings.

Livestock are usually given the same antibiotics as humans. Every time an antibiotic is administered, there is a chance that bacteria develop resistance to it. “Superbugs” – pathogens such as Escherichia coli, salmonella or campylobacter which can infect humans

Malaysian meats are tainted with antibiotic-resistant bacteria some studies have indicated that more than 50% of domestic chicken had the bacteria. Imported chicken had the worse results as over 87% of them had ampicillin-resistant bacteria.

Shockingly while other countries have banned the use of antibiotics in animal feeds, Malaysia is thinking of changing our Food Act to allow 147 residues in our meats, most of which are antibiotics.
CAP has registered its opposition to this change in the Food Act which in effect allows the use of the antibiotics to be used for food animals.

CAP had also sent a memorandum to the Malaysian Government to ban antibiotics in animal feeds, a move that is instituted in some countries like the EU and South Korea.
Studies have found chicken droppings used to feed cows, animal parts are fed back to animals (cannibalism which can lead to Mad Cow Disease) and maggots are used as a protein source for animals.

Consumers do not know much about the meat they are buying. They do not know about the antibiotics, hormones and pathogens found in their meat, the animal cruelty, the environment destruction caused and the rubbish fed to animals.

As today is Meatless Day CAP would like to call on consumers to avoid eating meat for the sake of their health and environment.

Press Statement, 25th November 2015

 

Vaping popular among teenagers, CAP urges Ministry to impose immediate ban

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) urges the Ministry of Health to impose immediate ban on e-cigarette. CAP is appalled to find that the use of e-cigarettes is becoming popular among teenagers in Malaysia. It is even more appalling that e-cigarettes are widely used by students.  

Complaints received from parents and teachers from several primary and secondary schools in Penang indicate that the number of student vapers are increasing. Primary school students were not spared either, according to the teachers. These teachers have confiscated the e-cigarette devices from their students.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated mechanisms that allow users to inhale or “vape” flavoured vapour produced from replaceable cartridges filled with nicotine and other chemicals.

E-cigarette has been banned in Singapore, Argentine, Brazil, Cambodia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Qatar, Seychelles and Turkey. The delay in banning the device in our country is incomprehensible.

Health of the children who have started vaping at young age is our main concern. They are attracted to the new device and hence want to try them out, says a teacher in a primary school in Penang. Unlike conventional cigarette, these devices are flavored and thus more attractive to children. This may hook the children into becoming life-long vapers.

Vaping is becoming a major nuisance in food outlets. People openly vape in restaurants and public places, creating inconvenience to others. The vapour from e-cigarette resembles smoke coming out from a chimney, according to one complainant.

The label of e-cigarette says that nicotine content in it is 3.6% from the total 10 ml liquid contents. Hence it is ironic that some websites promoting e-cigarettes as solution for nicotine addiction. Besides that, it contains many other dangerous chemicals.

E-cigarettes are being marketed as effective smoking cessation device and sold for RM50 to RM90. The liquid-filled bottle is sold from RM10 to RM20. E-cigarettes are easily available in gift shops. There are shops specifically selling e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are also widely and openly sold at pasar malams.

A conversation with a seller revealed that more youths are buying e-cigarettes including women. Women like it because it has less social stigma attached to it than the real cigarette. According to the seller, the more expensive the liquid, the higher the content of the nicotine. In the case of normal cigarette each cigarette has to be lit, which may at times prevent one from puffing on the second one. But in the case of e-cigarette there are high chances of continuously smoking till the last drop of the liquid.

E-cigarettes are being promoted as healthy alternative to tobacco smoking. The World Health Organisation (WHO) does not consider it to be legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit. According to WHO, electronic cigarette is not a proven nicotine replacement therapy.

According to scientists from the University of Athens, Greece, e-cigarettes causes damage to the lung. Nicotine on its own is an extremely toxic poison similar to pesticides. When taken too much, it can lead to nicotine poisoning, which causes vomiting and nausea and headaches.  

Malaysia has a smoking prevalence of 23.1% among adults and an extremely high smoking prevalence of 30.9% among boys aged 13. Everyday 50 teenagers below the age of 18 start smoking in Malaysia.

From a survey done by CAP, it is very clear that this e-cigarette is very appealing to youth and may create nicotine addiction among them. It also frees the user from the hassle of buying cigarettes which means chances of addiction are higher than the real cigarette.

While there is age restriction for the sale of real cigarettes, there is no age limit for buying e-cigarettes. This could lead into more children and youth buying and using e-cigarettes. Most of the sales are online and within easy reach of minors. Hence parents should monitor their children to prevent e-cigarette addiction among them.

There is a need to impose total ban on the sale on vaping as it may entice more youths into trying and getting hooked to them. Hence CAP urges Ministry of Health to impose immediate ban on the sale and use of e-cigarettes. Act now to save our younger generation.

 

Press statement, 30 October 2015

Malaysians don’t sleep enough and suffer health problems

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The Consumers Association of Penang calls on consumers to inculcate good sleeping habit as getting enough sleep is the key to good health.

According to a regional survey Malaysians get only 6.4 hours of sleep on average. This leads to a sleep gap of 1.6 hours short of the recommended 8 hours of sleep. Mobile devices and spending time online is one of the leading causes of this sleep deprivation.

The survey also indicates that internet addiction as a new threat to healthy living. Although internet penetration in Malaysia is not as high as in some of the other markets in the region, 73% of Malaysian adults interviewed agree that their online activities and social networking are becoming addictive.

81% of the respondents surveyed see spending time online as barrier that is preventing many adults from getting enough sleep. This addiction trend will be fuelled by children growing up with the internet as an integral part of their lives.

While sleeping less might seem to be just a lifestyle choice, studies have shown that a chronic lack of sleep can lead not only to poor performance and decreased productivity, but also significant health consequences.

As regular poor sleep puts one at risk of serious medical conditions including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens the life expectancy.

Among the possible effects of inadequate sleep are increased hunger and subsequent weight gain, decreased immune function, poor glucose control (contributing to the development of diabetes), increased blood pressure, and higher incidences of heart problems.

Sleepy people are also grumpy, irritable and unable to focus properly, which can lead to social problems, as well as cause work or car accidents.

Studies have also shown that keeping regular sleeping hours can reduce negative thoughts and worries. The findings also demonstrate that repetitive negative thinking is linked to sleep disruption and the research team strongly encourages those at risk of developing a mental health disorder to lend time to their sleep.

In another report, awareness on the effects of lack of sleep seems to be generally low among Malaysians, with only 35% saying that a lack of sleep affects their job performance tremendously, and 42% agreeing that decreased sleep significantly affects their physical health.

The lack of sleep does not just mean not sleeping enough hours for the body to recharge but also the quality of sleep that one is getting.
In the second Sleep Conference 2014 it was highlighted that about 10% of Malaysians have a sleeping disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and many are wrongly turning to pills to get some sleep. Using sleeping pills as the primary solution to get some sleep would lead to addiction.

Malaysians are taking for granted the importance of sleep. For example driving during the period from 2am to 4am, during that period, our body is preparing to sleep and to do something like driving is going against it. The cognition and response will be slower and wakefulness will not last as long as usual. As such driving during that period could lead to an accident. This is especially dangerous for express buses operating in the wee hours of the morning. This practice should be banned.

In a test of 300 Malaysian bus drivers, 30% were found to suffer from sleep disorders, according to a report by the Road Safety Department and the Sleep Disorder Society Malaysia.

Tests have shown that, people who are getting six hours of sleep, instead of seven or eight, have poorer performance in mental alertness.

In view of the importance of sleep to health the Consumers Association of Penang calls on the authorities to
— Stop issuing 24 hours licenses to eating outlets
— Stop night shifts in factories
— Stop entertainment outlets from operating after midnight
— Ban wee-hour trips by express buses
— The Ministry of Health should have a campaign to create awareness on sleep

To get good sleep, consumers are advised to avoid watching television, using smart phones, exercising, taking heavy meals and consuming alcohol and caffeine at least four hours before sleep. Consumers are also advised to sleep for at least 8 hours a night. As the saying goes “Early to bed early to rise makes a person healthy wealthy and wise,” let this be the guide to our good health.

Press Statement, 5 Feb. 2015