*Reposting from New Straits Times
LETTERS: Due to the stressful working environment faced by many Malaysians, it is not a surprise that some resort to the consumption of harmful products as a means of coping with their current lifestyle.
Therefore, imposing tough-on-harm policies may signify a detachment from the challenges and pressures faced by the working class, which need to be understood.
For instance, high taxation on cigarettes may cause smokers to turn to the illicit market.
This can be particularly concerning, as illicit products can be more harmful due to the disregard for regulations and safety standards.
To make matters worse, a study on illicit cigarettes in Malaysia indicated that the 42.8 per cent tax hike in 2015 resulted in a considerable increase of illicit cigarettes consumption.
In 2019, a total of 12 billion sticks of illicit cigarettes were sold, where Malaysia made up a staggering 62 per cent of worldwide sales of illegal cigarettes in that year.
Although the World Health Organisation has reported that an increase in tobacco taxes can steer a nation towards becoming a healthier society, it may also lead to disproportionately burdening the poor.
There are a number of studies that have positioned alternative tobacco products such as heated tobacco devices and e-cigarettes as promising alternatives in tobacco harm reduction.
For example, a research conducted under the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin indicated that a heated tobacco device produces an average of 90 to 95 per cent reduction in the levels of harmful chemicals than a traditional cigarette.
Although it is important to acknowledge that these alternatives may not be completely free from harmful substances, they should be recognised and provided as an option for individuals who wish to quit smoking.
Initiatives like these could realistically allow Malaysia to eventually achieve the status of a "smoke-free nation" more effectively compared with introducing stricter policies on traditional cigarette consumption and imposing similar restrictions on these harm reduction alternatives.
It is essential for the government to take on a multidimensional and unprejudiced stance in adopting harm reduction alternatives for the betterment of Malaysians.
Policies that are not rooted in empathy and understanding of the root cause of the problem should not force individuals from the working class to make a purely moral decision.
That, in itself, is immoral.
Bait al-Amanah (House of Trust)