Group slams ministry’s proposal

PETALING JAYA: The proposal by Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad to impose community service work such as cleaning toilets and collecting rubbish on errant smokers has kicked up a storm on social media.

The proposal, which was accompanied by an online poll on the Health Ministry’s website, saw 93% of 20,000 voters agreeing, though criticism also came in quickly.

Pertubuhan Kesedaran Perokok Malaysia founder Mohd Hanizam Yunus said the minister has jumped the gun and circumvented the courts with his proposal.

“This is because the Kuala Lumpur High Court will announce on Oct 29 its verdict on whether the recent ban on smoking was against the constitution, ” he said yesterday.

Hanizam added that the proposal made smokers feel like they were being targeted as criminals.

“Many are angry and are asking why smokers are being treated like criminals.

“Instead of making such statements, the minister should sit down and talk to us, ” he said, adding that previous requests for a meeting with the minister on three occasions were met with silence.

On Dec 31 last year, Hanizam and six others filed for a judicial review at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, which heard the case on Aug 22, and reserved judgement to Oct 29.

On Aug 7, PKPM was officially registered with the Registrar of Societies as the nation’s first association claiming to be the voice of some 4.7 million smokers in the country.

Although welcoming the proposal, lawyer Syahredzan Johan said that it must be carefully looked at legally.

“Community service such as those mentioned by the minister already exist under the Criminal Procedure Code for offenders below 21 years old.

“However, it is a discretionary punishment which is rarely used by the courts, ” he said.

Syahredzan added that the law must be reviewed to allow for such punishments in lieu of fines, and suggested that community service should be enlarged to cover not only errant smokers but also those guilty of other minor offences.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr N. Ganabaskaran said the maximum fine of RM10,000 or a two-year-jail term was already a stiff penalty for offenders and hoped authorities will find ways to ensure that the fines are paid.

“If there are repeat offenders or if they continue to ignore the fine, perhaps the government could look into even stiffer penalties.

“We feel the challenge will be in the enforcement, ” he added.

The smoking ban came into force on Jan 1 this year at all restaurants and stalls, regardless of whether the premises are enclosed.

A period of education prior to enforcement was originally set for six months but has since been extended to the end of the year.

On Tuesday, Dr Dzulkefly mooted community services in lieu of fines to “make smokers think twice” before lighting up in prohibited areas.

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