Anti-smoking move is no light matter

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 05 Dec 2004

By Wong Chun Wai

I HAVE just returned home after a two-week visit to London where the biggest news item isn’t just about the life of its Home Secretary David Blunkett and his married lover Kimberley Quinn but plans to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants. 

A big debate is taking place over the proposal, with some pubs planning to take advantage of a loophole in the law to convert their pubs into clubs. 

But the general consensus is that it’s time the authorities prevent smokers from damaging the health of non-smokers in public places. 

The logic is simple: go ahead and smoke yourself to death if you want to but don’t pollute the air and kill others around you. 

On coming home, it was a delight as a non-smoker to read a move by the Human Resources Ministry to ban smoking in all workplaces in order to provide a clean and healthy environment for employees. 

This move, which is an extension to several existing no-smoking areas, will be included under a new regulation on indoor air quality which will be place in six months. 

The regulation will stipulate what constitutes indoor air quality in office buildings and is aimed at clamping down on smoking in the workplace. 

Minister Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn must be lauded for his proposal but many Malaysians are sceptical about the implementation of the proposed law. 

Our politicians and bureaucrats have a reputation for passing and enacting laws but not enforcing them well. 

We have laws that ban smoking in places such as cinemas, air-conditioned restaurants, shopping malls, public transport, airports and government premises. But you and I know that air-conditioned restaurants also have smoking and non-smoking sections. 

Most of the time, the tables in both sections are so close together that it makes a mockery of the whole exercise. 

Restaurant owners and employees are reluctant to stop smokers from lighting up despite protests from non-smokers because they fear offending these customers. 

Non-smokers have to suffer in silence because they are too timid to confront the smokers. I have seen episodes of complaints nearly coming to blows. 

Smokers know that enforcement of the laws is so pathetic that they are unlikely to be caught and fined, unlike in Singapore where regulations are strictly enforced. 

When we were young, we would never think of riding a motorcycle without a helmet or not repair a faulty reflector. 

Today, we often see motorcyclists running the red light, ride around with three passengers at times, and sometimes with broken brake lights because they know the chances of being caught is practically nil. 

Some cynical Malaysians go further to imply that these unruly souls probably think they can “settle” their cases if caught by the police or council enforcement officers. 

I think the proposal by some readers that traffic cops and council officers be given a monthly quota in issuing summons deserves serious consideration. 

It’s ridiculous to enact more laws against smoking in public premises when there is no enforcement. 

We have enough laws and regulations; the authorities should look into implementing and enforcing these rules. 

If we need more law enforcers, whether full-time officers or volunteers, then we must employ more. In England, the police have recruited community support officers who have powers to assist the police in their work. 

Without doubt, our authorities must be commended for pushing forward these new anti-smoking laws but they must be serious in the implementation and enforcement aspects. 

It would be easier, I believe, for employees to stop smoking in their offices because no one wants to risk the wrath of their bosses who pay their salaries. 

But many smokers don’t give a damn at eateries because they know no one is going to haul them up. 

So, let’s be serious about making these laws work – if not, everything will go up in smoke, so to speak. 

  • Wong Chun Wai can be reached at  

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