I would like to offer my point of view on the statement made by the Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek a day before our Independence Day on the plight of local tobacco farmers that has led to the postponement of the ban on the sales of cigarette 'kiddie packs' to 2010.
Firstly, the representation of tobacco farmers is certainly imbalanced as compared to the over five million smokers in Malaysia, many of whom are trying very hard to quit the habit of smoking. Moreover, it is certainly totally imbalanced as compared to the 10,000 yearly deaths from smoking.
What intrigued me was that the tobacco industry has managed to convince the government to postpone the sales of these kiddie packs based on one weak reason - that the 13,000 local tobacco farmers would be affected.
Let me correct this one. Currently, the local tobacco companies have to rely on 70 percent content of local leaves. This rule is imposed by the Malaysian government and will expire once the Asean Free Trade Agreement (Afta) comes into place.
There is really not much future for the farmers as it has been reported that our leaves are of poorer quality when compared to our neighbouring countries. It is only a matter of time before the profit-oriented tobacco companies import higher quality tobacco leaves and leave our farmers high and dry.
So, the only reason the tobacco farmers are retained in a non-progressive environment is to enable the tobacco companies to sell a sob story to the government in order to buy time against tougher legislation.
Tobacco farmers can be supported to engage in alternative farming or trade with government agencies like Mardi and others providing them with proper marketing and distribution machineries. All it takes is strong political will.
It is a well-known fact that initiation into smoking happens between the ages of 10 and 15. The children can only afford these kiddie packs. And the tobacco industry knows this.
We do not want our future generations to puff their way to their coffins way before their time. Our neglect today will ruin their future.