The Right to Health and Secondhand Smoke

Fifa Rahman shares her slides on the right of women and children to be protected from secondhand smoke and their right to health.

The Right to Health is a right often overlooked. In fact, not many know of its existence. People know about the right to a fair trial, the right to non-discrimination and the right to freedom of assembly, but the right to health – even if known – is taken as a lesser right, or one of the branches of the right to life.

The right to health is contained in a few international covenants and conventions, but the ones I’ll discuss here are contained in the CEDAW, i.e. the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and ICESCR, i.e. the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Malaysia became a signatory to CEDAW on 5 July 1995, and ratified it in 2006. However, Malaysia has not become a signatory and/or ratified the ICESCR, putting Malaysia in the minority of countries that haven’t signed. These include: Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia and Oman. The question is, why haven’t we signed it? There could be several reasons to this. Perhaps this is due to Article 1 of the Covenant which provides for a right to ‘self-determination’ (this would include the right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development), or perhaps due to Article 8(1)(a) that states that everyone shall have the right to participate in a trade union. Of the exact reasons for non-ratification, we cannot be sure at this stage, and we are left to speculate.

What is sure is that the realization at the international stage of a right to health exists, and under the CEDAW, this has been recognized by the Malaysian government. The ratification of the ICESCR, however, would help further cement the emphasis on the right to health, and could be an emblem of Malaysia’s commitment in this regard.

The slides speak about the right of women and children to be protected from secondhand smoke and their right to health, and is focused around statistics such as the fact that 45% of Malaysian males smoke, and that there are 7,000 harmful chemicals in cigarettes. Even more compelling are financial figures, figures that show that tobacco companies in Malaysia make RM 90 million ayear killing people, and the government spends RM 20 billion treating tobacco-related diseases.The slides also show increased chances of tobacco-related disease towards persons who live with smokers, be it their parents, spouses, etcetera.

The speech on the whole sought to appeal to women to assert their right to health, and insist that smoking is done elsewhere, or that no smoking occurs at all.

“Right to Health and Secondhand Smoke” slides in English and Malay.

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Posted on 27 December 2011. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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