Make Brunei a ‘zero smoking’ nation

WITH over 20 per cent of Bruneians aged 18-69 engaged in smoking (Surveillance Population Survey, 2016) and with 50 per cent of our locals dying from non-communicable diseases (NCDs), it is now high time that the government considers making Brunei a ‘zero smoking’ nation.

This piece will attempt in giving out three strategies that can be applied to achieving this goal.

First, when it comes to clamping down on smoking, education matters.

In 1965, 45 per cent of Americans smoked, today it’s only 15 per cent (Smithsonian Magazine, 2015).

This reduction is attributed to the rising awareness of the dangers of smoking and its links to cancer, heart disease, stroke and other NCDs.

Such a phenomenon applies in Brunei too, where smoking was rampant in the 60s-80s until the government started taking stern steps against smoking and by highlighting the dangers of smoking to the public. Teenagers in school should be the primary focus for these anti-smoking campaigns. According to a 2014 Ministry of Health (MoH) survey conducted, 11 per cent of our students aged 13-15 used tobacco products.

Dr James Perrin, President of the American Academy of Paediatrics, said that 88 per cent or more of lifetime smokers start before they turn 18 (NBCNews, 2014).

By targetting them when they are young, we will be able to nip the societal smoking problem in the bud.

Scare tactics should be incorporated into the campaign.

An excellent example of this is MoH’s anti-smoking ad played at local cinemas.

These types of ads should be broadened and broadcast nationally through the radio, newspaper, and other media channels.

If done right, they will alarm smokers on the need to take care of their health.

After all, in a US study, 91.6 per cent of ex-smokers highlighted health-related matter as the main reason why they stopped smoking.

Even non-smokers warned friends or family about the dangers of smoking as a result of these scare tactics (Adweek.com, 2013).

Other alternative tactics include ‘positive emotions’ and ‘social norms’ campaign’ (Masstapp.edc.org).

Also, we need to dispel ‘fake facts’ that is prevalent in society. Notorious among them is that “smokers live into old age”.

“People who use this argument are just ignorant of risks and probabilities”, said Simon Chapman, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney. Had they not smoked, they will cut the risk of getting lung cancer by 84 per cent (American Cancer Society).

They will also save the government money had they not smoked.

According to asbestos.com, the estimated cost for chemotherapy treatment can be as high as USD30,000 over an eight-week period.

In 2018 alone, the MoH spent BND28 million out of the BND46 million from the allocated budget 2016/2017 to purchase medicines for NCDs, accounting to an estimated 60 per cent of total medication expenses.

Secondly, the government should focus on doubling the penalties on cigarette smugglers.

Smugglers from outside bring into Brunei counterfeit cigarettes which they sell to the black market.

The dubious smugglers, as part of their commercial modus operandi, may have offered cigarettes for free to young people in schools or the cybercafes until our youth succumb into this habit.

They tend to be cheap (BND2 per pack), making it accessible for low-income earners and the young to purchase them.

However, these cheap cigarettes are deadly. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) warns “counterfeit cigarettes were found to contain unsanitary ingredients (such as human faeces, dead flies and mould), as well as a higher dosage of lethal substances (arsenic, pesticides and rat poison) in excess of legitimate cigarettes.”

These reasons are why if passive smokers even inhale a tiny amount of these fake cigarette smoke, one can get chest tightness immediately.

It is terrible for those suffering asthma.

It is even worse for the people (especially children) around the active smoker.

I saw a father smoking in the car with his baby in it recently. What he is doing is effectively poisoning not only himself but his child.

These reasons should be enough for us to consider doubling the fines on smugglers.

That notwithstanding, all cigarettes are harmful, whether they are original or fake. It is like being given a choice between jumping out of the 20th or 30th floor of a building (theconversation.com).

Third, is the need for smokers to be considerate and responsible when it comes to smoking.

If one cannot contain oneself from smoking, do it in an area where the smoke will not affect others. Once one is finished smoking, throw the cigarette butts into the rubbish bin. The filter is made out of cellulose acetate, a type of plastic that can take over a decade to decompose.

Crucially, stop purchasing these illegal cigarettes. If possible, report those smugglers or sellers to the authorities.

To parents or future parents especially, please stop smoking today. Do not let your smoking habit affect your posterity because, one way or another, it will.

Know also that the MoH under the Healthy Lifestyle Unit offer TF4L (Tobacco Free for Life) programme which you can join. You do not need to handle your smoking problem alone.

On the whole, smoking has severe social implications for the society.

I hope that the matters outlined in this piece will be raised in the coming Legislative Council session.

I hope that our highly esteemed legislative council members and ministers would work together to promote a ‘zero smoking’ nation.

Prevention is better than cure, after all.

– Abdul Malik Omar