Smoke gets in all our eyes

Reminder: A ‘no smoking’ sign is displayed prominently at Medan Selera Petaling Jaya. — ART CHEN/The Star

PETALING JAYA: Smokers are openly flouting the smoking ban introduced at restaurants and eateries three years ago and calls are growing for the authorities to act.

Enforcers, however, say they are short-handed.

The public are saying that despite the good start then, things are going back to square one with many smokers sticking to their bad habits.

Last week, a reader wrote to The Star complaining about a lack of enforcement against the smoking ban at eateries, saying non-smokers should be protected from the hazards of second-hand smoke by diligent monitoring and robust enforcement of the existing legislation.

However, Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said there were smokers flouting the ban despite the “no smoking” signs put up.

“They fight with the enforcement officers who come to do their job. They also scold and bully workers when we tell them not to smoke,” he said when contacted.

He said the smokers did not have any respect for the anti-smoking law, adding that enforcement should be stepped up.

A Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Restaurants Association official said coffee shop operators were helpless against stubborn smokers.

“We are only able to plead with them to move to the open area if they insist on smoking,” she said.

With the pressure increasing, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has suggested targeted enforcement against smokers at eateries, under a “direct complaints” method.

Its health department director Dr Umi Ahmad said this would allow the authorities to carry out enforcement at more precise and concentrated hotspots around the city.

“This method can only be achieved with the help of premises’ owners who must lodge their complaints with us. Through this method, we can identify hotspots where smokers break the law.

“We have about 6,000 restaurants in Kuala Lumpur – it is impossible for us to be everywhere, but we want to make an effort this year to prioritise the ‘no smoking’ rule at eateries.

“Owners must help us. Even if they try to advise patrons not to smoke, that is the first step already,” she said when contacted.

Asked how to deal with smokers who argue with people or enforcement officers, Dr Umi said that this should be discouraged when dealing with “difficult individuals”.

She said individuals who were nicotine-dependent might not be able to think wisely and, as such, react angrily.

“I don’t think it will be worthwhile arguing with them – if you tell them to stop smoking, you have done your job,” she added.

On enforcement, Dr Umi said they had been actively carrying it out in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, but things changed after standard operating procedure put in place to combat the disease was eased.

She said most people and even premises’ owners could have forgotten the law, but the authorities must go back to stricter enforcement.

Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ) press relations officer Norhayati Ahmad said enforcement together with the district health department had been postponed since the first lockdown in March 2020.

“They (smokers) know that you are not allowed to smoke but they still do it. It boils down to ignorance.

“When we carried out the joint enforcement, they got angry when compounds were issued. So, this is the conundrum for us.

“Why is this so? It is because they know they cannot get away with it in another country. Here, when our workers tell them to stop smoking, they curse and bully them.

“They also fight with the enforcement officers who come to do their job but the only way this will ever stop is for Malaysians to adhere to the law,” she said when contacted.

On Dec 1 last year, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Datuk Seri Mahadi Che Ngah said DBKL was also looking to expand non-smoking zones in the city to its market and public swimming pools as part of the licensing condition for business owners.

The smoking ban came into effect on Jan 1, 2019, when the Health Ministry gazetted all food and beverage outlets in Malaysia as smoke-free zones.

Those found smoking or vaping at eateries nationwide can be slapped with a RM250 compound or face a RM10,000 fine if brought to court, while restaurant operators who fail to put up no-smoking signs risk a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or jail time of up to six months.

Under Regulation 12 of the Tobacco Control Regulation 2004 (amended) 2018, owners must also ensure that their premises are smoke-free, and are not allowed to provide a smoking area, ashtray or shisha. The “no smoking” sign must also be displayed clearly and visible to all.

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