Let’s breathe easy at public parks

The public welcomes Selangor’s move to enforce the ban on smoking and drinking alcohol in parks and playgrounds in the coming months. Banners and updated signboards with QR codes have been set up to first educate the public. — Filepic

“Breathe in, breathe out,” instruct trainers to participants of an exercise group quietly gathered at a neighbourhood park in Subang Jaya.

However, the tranquillity of the morning is shattered by hooligans occupying a nearby gazebo smoke, drink and talk loudly.

Cigarette smoke wafts over as alcohol bottles are strewn all over the gazebo.

Some of the participants in the exercise group, including my mother, are either senior citizens, cancer survivors or patients battling or recovering from terminal illnesses.

Classes have since been cancelled due to the movement control order (MCO) but prior to that, she and other participants would exercise for an hour or two in the mornings at the park daily.

And instead of breathing in the fresh morning air, their lungs would be filled with second-hand smoke, which adversely affects the cardiovascular system and could cause coronary heart disease and stroke.

Imagine the irony of surviving lung cancer, only to be inflicted with other ailments while exercising to improve one’s health, all thanks to the inconsiderate smokers at the park.

Hence, when the Selangor government announced that local councils now had the authority to enforce a ban on smoking, vaping and drinking alcoholic beverages in all public parks, I was overjoyed.

Selangor local government, public transport and new village development committee chairman Ng Sze Han announced this during a press conference at the state assembly last month.

According to Ng, with the amendment to the Selangor Park By-law 2005, those found smoking or drinking alcohol at parks could be fined up to RM1,000, which is the maximum amount in the by-law.

“Parks and playgrounds are places for leisure and frequented by people of all ages.

“For the well-being and health of park-goers, more so during Covid-19, it is time we ban drinking and smoking at playgrounds and recreational parks under the by-law,” he said.

Three years ago, I had written an article stating that it would be illegal to light up at public parks in Selangor (“Smoking ban in S‘gor parks begins”, June 1, 2017).

The state government had announced that it would enforce the Control of Tobacco Product (Amendment) Regulations 2017 and those caught flouting the law could face a maximum fine of RM10,000 or up to two years in jail.

However, the law could only be enforced by state Health Department officers.

With the amended by-law, local councils can now take action against those who smoke or drink alcohol at parks.

And it is not just for the health of park-goers, Ng said.

“It (smoking and drinking) creates disturbance and also pollutes the park. The park and gazebos are littered with cigarette butts and empty beer bottles.

“Some would even vomit and urinate at the gazebos. While park contractors can clear bottles and cigarette butts, they are unable to clean up the vomit and pee.

“Sometimes, young children would pick up the cigarette butts,” he said in a phone interview.

“I urge park-goers to do their part by reporting to the council whenever they see anyone flouting the law.

“It is time for awareness to be increased instead of waiting till enforcement is carried out,” he added.

Ng admitted that with thousands of parks and playgrounds in the state, council enforcement officers could not monitor all parks.

And that was the sentiment of many people who commented online, in reaction to the news of the by-law amendment.

While they applauded the decision, they doubted that it would be enforced.

Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) Corporate Communications head Shahrin Ahmad said the council welcomed the state government’s decision as recreational parks were public areas frequented by many, including senior citizens and children for leisure activities.

He said there are 45 public parks within the city, with the most frequented ones being Taman Tasik Shah Alam, Taman Tasik Seksyen 7 and Taman Tasik Kota Kemuning.

“We hope the public can adhere to the guidelines for the sake of other park-goers. MBSA has a park ranger unit that monitors activities at the public parks,” he said.

During the campaign launch event on Aug 9, Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Amirudin Shari said the state government had decided to give a grace period of two to three months to create awareness of the new measure.

But will a RM1,000 fine be a sufficient deterrent?

Perhaps the council should also make offenders clean up their mess by scrubbing away the vomit, urine and clearing away the cigarette butts and beer bottles they so selfishly discard.

Maybe experiencing what cleaning contractors have to go through will make the litterbugs think twice before tainting any public park.
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smoking , drinking , alcohol , park , health


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