THE Health Ministry’s intention to gazette all open-air restaurants as no-smoking areas beginning December has received a resounding thumbs up from non-smokers .
However, smokers are calling for a fairer approach.
Long-time smoker David Chen said he was adhering to existing regulations prohibiting smoking at gazetted places, including air-conditioned premises.
“I totally understand and accept the banning of smoking at those places.
“But for the ruling to cover open-air places such as mamak stalls, hawker centres or restaurants is a little too demeaning.
“Smoking is bad, period. But smokers should be allowed to make their own choices,” he added when met at a food court in Buntong.
Chen, 40, said he could not help but think that the move was targeting smokers on top of the high “sin tax” imposed on tobacco-based products.
“I understand non-smokers’ need for clean air, but we are following the rules.
“Furthermore, we are talking about public areas and we have the right to be in these areas as taxpayers and citizens.
“I think both the anti-smoking and smoking groups have the choice to dine anywhere they wish without imposing on each other’s’ choice of lifestyle,” he added.
On Sept 5, Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye announced the ministry’s intention to gazette all open-air restaurants as no-smoking areas from December.
The current Control of Tobacco Product (Amendment) Regulations 2017 prohibits smoking in 21 areas, including hospitals, public toilets, lifts, government premises as well as air-conditioned shops and offices.
If the ruling comes into force in December, Chen noted that he would have no choice but to eat out less and resort to packing his food.
Lydia Anthony, who was a smoker for more than 10 years before kicking the habit late last year, said the authorities should look at the sale of cigarettes and tobacco-based products instead of targeting smokers.
“The authorities impose a high tax on tobacco-based and alcoholic drinks.
“This in turn has caused a lot of other problems, such as imitation and illegal cigarettes, including smuggling. On top of that, more and more youngsters are able to buy cigarettes easily nowadays.
“If we are really serious about tackling these issues, why not ban cigarettes or tobacco-based products?
“I think that would be a really daring approach to really discourage and reduce the use of tobacco products,” said the cafe manager when met at Ipoh old town.
The 39-year-old former smoker said she totally understand the smokers’ urge to have a puff.
“I am not encouraging smoking but it is the choice a person makes and we should respect that even if we don’t agree with it.
“That is why my café has a designated area with several tables for smoking patrons.
“We should be fair to everyone,” she added.
However, graphic designer Asfalily Kasim begs to differ, as she felt it was high time the government implement the proposal for the health of all Malaysians.
“I agree to this proposal fully because I love my lungs.
“And I think it is a violation of my personal space if anyone smokes near me,” said the 39-year-old.
Having seen her father die of lung cancer years ago, Asfalily said it was the right time for smokers to make the wiser choice and be more concerned about their personal wellbeing.
“My father started smoking when he was 13.
“It broke my heart when I saw him suffer from lung cancer,” she said.
Sales assistant Chen Jia Hui agreed with Asfalily, saying that non-smokers deserved their fair share of clean air.
“I always see many patrons smoking at open-air food courts or hawker centres whenever I eat out.
“The smell of smoke is very unpleasant.
“Maybe smokers can go to a special area to get their fix instead of puffing away before or after their meals at the premises,” said the 18-year-old.
Print coordinator Hana Jimi said she often has to change tables out of respect for smokers whenever she eats out.
“I learned about the adverse effects of second-hand smoke a few years ago and I try to avoid being around smokers when they are puffing nearby.
“But it seems that the respect was not mutual and I have no choice,” she said, adding that she supported the proposal fully.
Private sector worker Amirah Shaharman, 33, also lauded the move, saying that it was one in line with Malaysia’s progress as a developing country.
“Some changes for the better have to start somewhere.
“Cigarette smoke is detrimental to a person’s health, especially passive smokers who have no choice but to endure it.
“This is more than just about second-hand smoke. It concerns respect among human beings too.
“If one wishes to neglect his or her health, he or she should have at least not bother others with his or her poor decision,” she said.
Concurring with Amirah’s view was pharmacist Matthew John Lee, 48, who opined that the government should also step up enforcement when it came to rules like this.
“We have existing laws prohibiting smoking in designated places. But we do not see enforcement taking place. Smokers take the easy way out and even discard cigarette butts indiscriminately.
“Rules are good for the nation in the long run. But we also need enforcement to make it matter and last,” he added.