The Ministry of Health does not understand Gen Z — Subramaniam Munusamy

I write in response to the code blue article Full steam ahead for the generational end game.

Over the past few weeks, some civil society groups have been lobbying hard for Malaysian MPs to vote in favor of the Tobacco and Tobacco Control Bill that will be tabled in parliament.

The part of the bill that has caused the most stir is the ban it will impose on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to people born in or after 2005. This ban, indeed, is targeted against Malaysia’s so-called Generation Z, the young adults who turn 18 next year.

However, there are ambiguities surrounding the legislation. The Ministry of Health and the Minister of Health have not really explained how the ban is to be effectively enforced. For example, will minors be fined for buying cigarettes?

How is the government going to stop the sale of cigarettes, or more commonly, vapes, on e-commerce sites to members of Generation Z? Or to stop their promotion via social networks?

Will people born after 2005 who bring cigarettes and vapes from overseas have these items confiscated upon entering Malaysia? How will shisha (or hookah) restaurants and lounges be regulated to ensure they don’t serve such products to Gen Zers?

In fact, I believe that the Ministry of Health does not understand Generation Z. It is true that many of them are vigorous vapers, but for the record, it is also true that the so-called “smokers” among them have ironically never touched a cigarette in their lives, and in fact, stay away from them.

For some reason, Gen Zers find vaping more appealing than smoking. It is true that liquids and juices are sweeter and more attractively packaged and marketed. These products specifically target young people. But it could also be that young people implicitly realize that vaping is a less harmful activity than smoking, although this fact seems to elude their government.

Either way, outright banning cigarettes and tobacco products will only make them more attractive to members of Gen Z, giving rise to what is known as the “forbidden fruit” effect. “.

We have already seen how young cigarette smokers in Malaysia already have access to it despite the efforts of the authorities. The danger is that the “endgame of the generation” simply pushes young smokers underground.

Vapers will then ironically be at risk, given that they may then be exposed to illegal or poorly manufactured devices or liquids, which are almost certainly extremely dangerous.

I am not advocating foregoing efforts to control youth smoking. On the contrary, outright bans and other punitive measures are counterproductive. People sometimes forget that they were young.

A more helpful modus operandi would be for the government to regulate vaping, as well as better combat unlicensed and unregulated vape shops, both physically and virtually across the country.

The government must continue to work with manufacturers to reduce the level of nicotine in cigarettes and vape liquids, as well as ban social influencers from promoting vapes, cigarettes and other tobacco products on media platforms social media such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.

It is instructive to note that smoking prevalence in Norway among young people (aged 16-24) has fallen from 12% in 2010 to 1% in 2020, although the country has not implemented any form of tobacco ban.

The Norwegian Ministry of Health has found that education is the main explanatory factor for the prevalence of smoking. The less education you have, the more likely you are to become a smoker.

At the same time, the consumption of smokeless tobacco among young people has also increased.

Ultimately, smoking is driven by social factors. If friends, parents and family members of young people cannot talk them out of smoking, what makes us think the government can?

The generational endgame needs to be redesigned. The government should not seek populist solutions, but rather focus on the real roots of the various problems facing our nation.

  • This is the personal opinion of the author or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of code blue.

Maria J. Book