In the 19th century, opium was the thing. It was sought and smoked freely.
At first, it was done for fun. If there were Facebook during that time, I am sure the timeline will be filled with smoke-filled selfies of smokers with their latest trendy pipes and devices.
There would be cafes for people to smoke while discussing and comparing their pipes and which opium “brand” tasted better.
The opium business was so good and profitable to the local businessmen until the British took over the opium trade.
Retail shops needed to be licensed, sale of opium was controlled and taxed, and opium users need to be registered.
Perhaps there was a movement called “Malaysian Organisation of Opium Entities” (MOEE) back then which strongly opposed such actions.
Maybe there were political and community leaders who lashed out against the British for oppressing the local opium entrepreneur. It was not the right thing to do, they would claim.
About 10 years after that, the use of opium become more restricted. Now only doctors could recommend opium use among selective users.
The community now realise that opium addiction causes mood swings, irritability, agitation, financial problems, health problems and subsequently death (sound familiar?).
Finally, recreational use of opium was prohibited by law. And today, it will be impossible to find any person with sound mind who would say that recreational opium use should be legalised.
It took humans hundreds of years from the first recorded use of opium to have proper legislation over the use of opium.
Yes, it was first used for medicinal purpose but the creativity of the human mind allowed it to be misused. And it took hundreds of years from the time we realised the problem of opium addiction until the moment we had legislative power to stop it from corrupting our society.
The use of tobacco had been recorded hundreds of years ago. It had been consumed in various ways, including chewing and smoking.
Around 1900, the cigarette-making machine was invented and that was the beginning of the commercial cigarette industry.
The tobacco companies spent a great deal on promoting their products. Good-looking models were used to promote smoking as harmless social habit.
Those days we could see people smoking in every place imaginable. It was okay for people to smoke in offices, libraries, restaurants, hospitals, schools and even in the plane.
Then came the realisation that smoking causes cancer. The finding was known only after more than 60 years cigarettes were commercialised.
Tobacco companies now have to promote their products more innovatively.
They compete with each other in order to show that their brand is less harmful than the other. Doctors and dentists were used in their marketing posters. Who would not choose a brand that was doctors’ favourite brand?
By this time, people started to become aware about the harmful effects of smoking. Legislation started to become stricter.
Levels of tar and nicotine were regulated. Health warnings on cigarette packaging were introduced. That was not enough to stop people from smoking.
However, society started to realise that it was better and easier for them not to start smoking than quit the habit.
The next blow came a few years after that with studies showing people who never smoked but inhaled second-hand smoke were associated with higher risk of developing cancers and other health problems.
This led to governments implementing smoke-free zones. Surely there was uproar from smokers who see this as a restriction on their human rights.
Luckily, most know that inhaling cigarette smoke is harmful and now we can find more and more places where smoking is prohibited.
Currently, in Malaysia, smoking is not seen as a joyful and cool habit any more.
Most Malaysians would now pity smokers who could not leave their bad habit and nicotine addiction.
It was achieved through continuous education and proper legislation. It took us more than 100 years to make the people realise that smoking is a harmful and perhaps in decades, we can stop cigarette smoking the way we stopped opium misuse.
The use of vape to inhale nicotine is quite new in Malaysia. Nicotine liquid was produced by local brewers and smoked in electronic devices.
Vaping is seen as trendy and a safer way to inhale nicotine because of the belief that the liquid is not harmful to health.
I would not venture into all the scientific studies proving that vaping is not as safe as it seems.
I would only want us to relate the impact of opium and cigarette addiction on our society. It took us hundreds of years to ban opium and a hundred more years to control cigarette use.
What if in few years’ time, people started to develop morphine-tainted vape? Surely it will be safer to use vape to inhale morphine compared with the traditional methods addicts are using now.
Will the Persatuan Pengguna Islam Malaysia (PPIM) defend the act as it will be less harmful with injecting heroin?
Will the ministers and community leaders defend morphine vape as it will surely promote local entrepreneurs to venture into the business? We can even be the number one supplier of morphine liquid in the world.
From current development, if the government were to bow to the demands of the industry and those playing the race card, I foresee that vape would be regulated as cigarette.
It would be sad day for Malaysian if it came to this. Why would we want to create a new war against addiction when we can prevent it from happening by using current acts?
Why would we want to repeat the same mistakes that we have with opium and cigarette when we can prevent it in the first place? Only fools would make the same mistakes over and over again. – November 17, 2015.
* F.H. Abad is a pharmacist.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.