KUALA LUMPUR: The number of smokers among Malaysian men population has shot up to 38% while that of female 1.4% and this trend is becoming a worrying concern. The figures were revealed at the Kuala Lumpur Nicotine Addiction Conference by Deputy Director-General of Health (Public Health) Datuk Dr. Lokman Hakim Sulaiman, who expressed his deep concern over the high numbers. "This would mean roughly 4.7 million smokers, out of nearly 30 million Malaysians. Most start before the age of 18." Lokman revealed that of individuals who began smoking underage, 25% did so before the age of 10. "We're fortunate to have one of Asean's more advanced healthcare system. Yet we've also the highest prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as stroke or cancer," said Lokman, drawing a link between NCDs and smoking. In terms of absolute numbers, Lokman observed, 20,000 Malaysians die annually from smoking; something that could've been avoided if they never smoked or could quit ahead. During the press conference Lokman elaborated further, stating the authorities were considering every possible avenue to curb smoking. "For example, subsidising anti-smoking initiatives or medication. Currently small-scale subsidies do occur. But many other factors need to be carefully measured, such as cost-effectiveness or alternate replacement therapies, before the scale can be widened. According to the Tobacco Atlas 5th Edition (released in March) the combined revenue of the world's six largest tobacco companies in 2013 amounted to a staggering 342 billion USD (1.24 trillion ringgit). Tobacco-related deaths in Malaysia in 2010 was 19% for men and 8.2% for women, a higher than average death rate than other middle-income countries.