Malaysian govt remains steadfast on tobacco

KUALA LUMPUR - The Health Ministry has reaffirmed Malaysia's position that it wants tobacco to be excluded from trade liberalisation discussions under the United States-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said that Malaysia had taken a strong stand on the matter, which has garnered foreign support.

"We were the only country that did that and had a lot of support from many other countries, but we did not get support from the United States because it said that tobacco should be part of trade," he said at the opening of the inaugural World Cancer Day Conference and Expo 2014 here yesterday.

The TPPA discussions were targeted at removing tariffs and to allow countries to have freer access to all markets for products.

Dr Subramaniam said that some countries viewed tobacco as a trade item and felt that the tariffs linked to it should be removed, and thought Malaysia was trying to protect its own tobacco trade, which was not true.

"Our reason was that it was something negative, and therefore, should not be part of the liberalisation process," said Dr Subramaniam, who added that it was not negotiable from the health perspective as smoking was a clear threat to health.

He said smoking was linked to 20 per cent of all cancer-related deaths. In 2013, the incidence of cancer in Malaysia was 38,000, up from 32,000 in 2008, and this was predicted to increase to 57,000 in 2025.

There were 21,700 cancer deaths here in 2012, and on a global scale, cancer had overtaken heart disease as the leading cause of death, he added.

National Cancer Society president Dr S. Saunthari said that Australia had a 60 per cent cancer survival rate while Malaysia had 30 per cent, and suggested that the rather low rate was due to Malaysians not seeking treatment early enough, with some having the misconception that cancer treatment would kill them.