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Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Smoking Rate Among Malaysian Aborigines

By: Jeniffer Lewis.

Despite legislation introduced in 1976, which requires warning labels on all cigarette packages sold in Malaysia and a ban on smoking in all public facilities, which went into effect in 2010, smoking continues to plague the population. In fact, the smoking rate among the aborigine population is double the rate of the rest of the population. This has led to smoking as a major cause of death among aboriginal people.

There are several reasons for this alarming statistic. In the past, smoking played an important role in religious rituals. As aboriginal cultures are becoming increasingly westernized, many try to cling to ancient practices so as to not lose their cultural identity.

Another reason is a lack of education about the dangers of smoking. A study conducted in 2009, among university students at Management and Science University, Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia, surveyed students regarding social demographics, knowledge, attitudes and practices of smoking. This study found that nearly thirty percent had been influenced at a young age by friends to smoke. They also demonstrated a low level of knowledge regarding the negative effects of cigarettes and had a negative attitude towards efforts to legislate smoking.
Addicted to nicotine

The simplest reason is addiction. When parents smoke, their children grow up in an atmosphere where it is acceptable. They are most likely to experiment with smoking and become addicted to nicotine. Although smoking cessation aids are widely available in Malaysia, the use of them among the aboriginal population is very low. This is due, in part to the fact that smoking cessation aids are expensive and are not subsidized by the government. There is also a reluctance to use them unless directed by a physician. Rural areas present many challenges to education and health care.

Efforts to educate smokers about the dangers of smoking have been effective in the urban areas of Malaysia. In 2004, a five year campaign called, “Tak Nak” (say no) was launched by the Ministry of Health and reached over 92 % percent of the population. Legislators have also tried to discourage smoking by increasing the sales tax on cigarettes. When government and health care professionals partner together they often are able to produce this kind of multi-level approach which is found to be the most effective way to promote smoking cessation.

While these efforts have worked well, most aboriginal people live in rural areas and have agricultural jobs. This seems to be the major reason that their smoking rate is double that of other populations. If there is to be any change, these methods, which have been successful elsewhere, must penetrate the aboriginal community. Government subsidies can make smoking cessation aids available and affordable. Community groups can be formed in rural areas to educate and provide support for those who wish to quit smoking. 
Health issues

Improvements in education and health care can also have a positive effect on reducing smoking. A better educated person has access to jobs in professional settings where smoking is banned. Education about proper health practices leads to better decisions regarding personal health. Educating parents about the dangers of smoking during pregnancy as well as second hand smoke to their children can motivate them to quit.
Education about smoking should be in the classroom as well. When children are educated at a young age about the dangers of smoking and the long term impacts on health such as cancer and heart problems, they are less likely to begin. Teachers can encourage children to sign smoke-free pledges and raise awareness with their parents about the dangers of smoking.

There is hope for reducing the smoking rate in the aboriginal community of Malaysia; however it requires a high level of commitment on the part of legislators, health care professionals and educators. Rural areas can be difficult to access and the population is more widespread than in urban areas. As the internet becomes more accessible in Malaysia, it can be a powerful tool to reach people with education and smoking cessation support. The National Cancer Society Malaysia website is an excellent resource for materials on smoking cessation and cancer prevention.

Malaysia has no shortage of help available for those who wish to quit smoking. The challenge is to reach the aboriginal community with these resources. Increased awareness of this challenge is the key to overcome it.    
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