KUALA LUMPUR: Shamsul Rizal Ramli was tempted to take his first puff when he was 15, a habit he continued for the next 20 years.
Since nothing unusual occurred, Shamsul never felt the need to kick the habit.
However, the consequences of lighting up started to set in for Shamsul in 2014. He was unable to project his voice louder while teaching in classrooms. His voice also started to get hoarser and he had breathing difficulties.
He was eventually diagnosed with laryngeal cancer (Stage 3). The cancer tumour had swelled and was almost blocking his respiratory tract. Doctors told him the only way to save his life was to remove his voice box.
“My voice box was the price I paid for smoking. I never imagined this would happen when I took my first puff.
“So, I went through a total laryngectomy to remove my voice box. The surgery took almost 10 hours. I could not eat or drink anything for nine days after surgery. I was only fed milk through my nasal route via a feeding tube.
“This triggered severe gastritis because I was not used to sleeping on an empty stomach. I was able to swallow food after that but had to maintain a strict diet,” he said.
Now, Shamsul uses an artificial voice box to communicate. Currently, he is also president of Malaysia Laryngectomee Association (MLA) which champions the welfare of laryngeal cancer patients and conducts anti-smoking campaigns.
Though fate has spared his life, Shamsul still regrets taking his first puff until today.
Whenever he sees youngsters lighting up on the streets, Shamsul would recall his ordeal and feel anxious about the future that awaits young smokers.
“Every puff they take is going to be costly. The country urgently needs something drastic to stem the tide of new smokers. I believe the tobacco generational endgame (GEG) is the best solution for this.
“We need to ban the sales of both cigarettes and vapes to the younger generation. We cannot allow them to assume that smoking naturally becomes their ‘legal right’ once they turn 18.
“Another prevalent misconception is that vapes are less dangerous than conventional cigarettes. Numerous studies have found that smoking non-tobacco options can lead to e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI).
“So, I plead with our lawmakers to vote wisely and pass the GEG when it is re-tabled in Dewan Rakyat,” he said.
The GEG, otherwise known as the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill, was tabled for first reading on July 27. The bill is currently being reviewed by a parliamentary special select committee that is chaired by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.