Hurdles to no-smoking rule

Restaurant owners cite poor business for letting customers puff away on their premises

IN 2013, I worked as a cashier in a convenience store and discovered that the most sought-after item was cigarettes.

The majority of customers were men who often made their purchase during peak hours, on their way to work or before returning home.

Typically, cigarette packs would include images of some of the diseases that could be caused by smoking, such as cancer.

I asked some customers whether they were put off by these graphic images and their answer was “no”.

As a non-smoker, I was one of those who cheered when the ban on smoking came into force in most public spaces on Jan 1, 2019.

The smoking ban came into force under the Food Act 1983’s Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004.

However, enforcement only began on Jan 1, 2020, as the authorities decided not to issue fines during the first year and focus on educating the public.

The shisha joints closed and my favourite mamak restaurant no longer provided a smoking corner for customers.

As businesses slowly recover during this endemicity transition period, I decided to check out my favourite restaurants.

I discovered that the no-smoking signs had vanished, the smoking zone was back and the shisha joints had reopened.

I chatted with a restaurant owner who said business had taken a tumble ever since the smoking ban was introduced.

His sales dropped further when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, so he decided to remove some of the no-smoking signs to attract more customers.

“We need to pay bills and our workers’ salaries,” he said in justifying his decision.

The other issue with the no-smoking rule is the lack of enforcement, especially after working hours.

What is the point of having a ban that is only enforced from 9am to 5pm every day?

Although there may be a lack of manpower, the government should have kept that in mind before implementing the ban.

I spoke with Johor Indian Muslim Entrepreneurs Association (Perusim) secretary Hussein Ibrahim who said that the government should not be too harsh when taking action against restaurant owners.

He said many customers refused to adhere to the smoking ban and some had even threatened restaurant workers who reminded them about the law.

“We are adhering to the smoking ban, but the same cannot be said about some errant customers.

“We have installed CCTV cameras at our premises so that when the authorities come, we can show them footage of customers refusing to comply and thus hope that we will not get a summons.”

The prohibition on smoking extends to non-air-conditioned and outdoor eateries, including roadside stalls.

Under the regulations, facilities for smokers such as smoking rooms and ashtrays are prohibited.

Besides tobacco products, vape and shisha with nicotine are also included in the ban.

However, smokers are permitted to light up 3m away from these establishments.

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