The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: Tobacco control

Friday, 23 February 2024, 09:58 Last update: about 3 months ago

The first tobacco control strategy is being developed, Health Minister Jo Etienne Abela said in Parliament recently, in response to a question by PN MP Albert Buttigieg.

The harmful effects of tobacco are widely known today. However, there are still many who are addicted to such products. Many are so due to having started smoking when they were younger, and those who have managed to quit the habit know that it is not an easy task.

Years ago the move was made to ban smoking from inside aircraft, and later from inside restaurants and establishments. This reduced the second hand smoke that people would inhale for being in the same enclosed space as someone smoking a cigarette or cigar.

The habit is a pricey addiction, both in terms of health impacts and in terms of monetary impact. Most often people who do smoke do not realise just how much they are spending. Money literally burnt away.

The minister said that this strategy will include a wide variety of initiatives, including reducing the affordability of tobacco products, reducing their availability, reducing advertising, discouraging illegal commerce of tobacco products, increasing awareness of the health impact of using such products. But it will also include measures to increase the services available to assist people who do smoke to quit, and also increase research on the issue.

It sounds like a good basis for a strategy, although details have yet to be revealed, and its success will depend on those details.

Many smokers don’t like being told to quit, or don’t pay attention to the warnings of harm the habit can cause. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to hear it, some think themselves invincible, some just don’t believe they are strong enough to quit as they equate a cigarette with their everyday routine. But to the latter don’t give up so easily, even heavy smokers can quit. There are products and services out there to help in this process. It may not be easy, but the health impacts are just not worth keeping up the habit.

In his answer in Parliament, the minister also detailed the kind of support available for people who use tobacco today, such as free one-to-one sessions for people who wish to quit smoking being offered by the Directorate for Health Promotion and Environmental Disease Prevention within the Public Health Superintendence. The minister said that an individual, specialised plan to help people quit smoking is drawn up, and that people can call the Quitline 80073333.

In addition to the news of this strategy, a public consultation document last November proposed the initiation of discussions at national level to ban cigarette sales to individuals born after a due date. “This will positively impact the health of all future generations.”

New Zealand had pioneered the idea, though news reports read that its new government will scrap it. In the UK, however, British PM Rishi Sunak had said that his government aims to raise the smoking age by one year, every year, effectively creating a smoke-free generation.

Malta can also do this. In doing so, lives will be saved. It will also need to seriously crack down on the black market sale of tobacco.


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