Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shisha ban should cover all Malaysians

The fatwa against shisha is noteworthy, although it could have been done done much earlier.

The edict creates a double standard in safeguarding the health of people

THERE is no doubt that the fatwa to ban the use of shisha is timely and welcomed. Shisha is no longer a novelty in Malaysia. It has become popular, especially among youngsters of both genders.

They perceive shisha as harmless, more for fun and kicks. This is always the case for habit-forming activities, ranging from the use of substances to electronic gadgets.

Hence, to act fast with utmost resolute is the name of the game. It will become an uphill battle once the habits become entrenched in us.

The fatwa against shisha is laudable, though it could have been done earlier.

The next step is to internalise the fact that addiction knows no boundaries: geographical, ethnicity and social status.

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After all, the biophysiological and psychological responses are invariably the same for all humans, though some may be more disposed than others, depending on the exposure or other predisposing factors.

In this regard, the shisha ban should have been more encompassing and not only limited to the scope of the fatwa.

It should have been extended, on the same scientific basis and evidence, that shisha is undesirable for all Malaysians.

Hence, a nationwide ban is warranted.

Otherwise, not only is the ban more difficult to impose, it also creates a double standard in safeguarding the health of Malaysians.

This would be most unfortunate as it can be divisive.

Based on this, the question that must be asked is, why just stop at shisha? What about other tobacco products, notably cigarettes?

Here is where the shisha ban falls terribly short. In fact, it sends a wrong signal, implying that cigarette smoking is an acceptable habit, as though it is a lesser evil relative to shisha.

Indeed, there are opinions to that effect, arguing that the constituent of shisha is crude and, worse, because it has no filters unlike cigarettes.

The water filter provided by shisha is insufficient or ineffective. So, cigarettes and other tobacco products being excluded from the fatwa will continue to waste millions of lives, most prematurely. Ironically, death caused by shisha is nowhere near this.

The reality is different with cigarettes.

Cigarette packs have this warning: "Tobacco kills."

It also maims many more because of the secondary smoke that it emits into the environment, not unlike shisha.

It is already recognised by many parties, including the World Health Organisation, that there are 7,000 chemicals in a cigarette.

Many are deadly and several are carcinogenic.

Despite all these, far from being banned, the control of the sales in this country remains weak as compared with Thailand and Singapore.

They appear to be far more committed to save the lives of their population. Ours have been flip-flopping in most cases, otherwise, the "kita akan kaji dahulu"(we will study first) knee-jerk response when others have implemented the same years ahead with much success (point of sales cigarette advertisements, for example). To be sure, in the last few years, the campaign against tobacco has stagnated.

As a result of that, too, there have now emerged e-cigarette devices, once again disguised as something so benign that they can be bought in souvenir shops around the country.

Like shisha, this is another novelty that appeals to the younger generation, who have always been the target of the tobacco industry. This time with a reverse claim of being a clean cigarette, if ever there is one.

On the contrary, the liquid that is to be used with the e-cigarette contains chemicals, including the addictive nicotine. It cannot possibly justify the word clean, as much as the word "mild" or "light", as in the case of conventional tobacco.

Here again, Malaysia is being bogged down with the cliché - "kita akan kaji", when our neighbours, with at least five others worldwide, have banned the use of e-cigarettes.

The logic that banning deadly poisons like tobacco products will cost business to lose is irresponsible. This implies we would be more concerned about losing profits rather than previous human lives.

The ultimate question still remains: do we have what it takes to do the right thing to protect the lives of our citizen from being wasted by the merchants of death? The answer is obvious. And we must act accordingly, immediately.

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