February 8, 2021 | Written By: Lutfi Yunus
On January 1st 2020, the Malaysian government launched full enforcement of the smoking ban specifically designated towards open dining areas (eateries) and twenty-two other public areas. These smoke-free zones would soon be the turning point in reducing air pollution emitted by cigarettes in public spaces, further establishing communal health concerns and emphasizing the dangers of cigarette smoking. Want to know more about the smoking ban regulation? Why is it often labeled as a sensitive communal issue? And how does the foreign or global population perceive the subject? Read the article further below.
The Prohibited Areas
The government - in conjunction with the Ministry of Health - over the past few years, has gazetted a number of non-smoking public areas. However, in 2019, the list was updated and designates a new prohibited area that would soon attract the attention of many - namely the ban on smoking in eateries.
Before we delve deeper into the controversy - over the new restricted zone. Here is a list of the 23 smoke-free areas that has been gazetted and enforced since January 1st 2020:
1. Public parks
2. Religious areas
3. Child care center
4. Government premises
5. National & state parks
7. Theatres & entertainment centers - excluding pubs, disco, nightclubs & casinos
8. Hospitals & clinics
9. Elevator & public toilets
10. Vehicles & public transport stations
11. Air-conditioned areas
12. School buses
13. Internet cafes
15. National service training centers
16. Petrol stations
17. Indoor activity assembly area - other than residential premises
18. Sports complex, fitness center & gymnasium
19. Educational Institutions & Universities
20. Indoor service counters
21. Shopping centers
22. Public playgrounds
23. Open dining areas (eateries)
When it comes to smoking bans in eateries, according to the guidelines gazetted by the MOH, the prohibited area covers a distance of three meters or 10 feet radius from the dining table or the area of the dining premises.
Why Is It Such a Big Issue?
The latest declaration of non-smoking areas has indeed caused a stir within the communities. Various different reactions from smokers and non-smokers alike have been expressed by netizens through social media. Generally, smokers felt that their individual rights are being challenged and slowly narrowed, especially when prior to the new regulation, public smoking was never considered a crime. On the other hand, the majority of non-smokers welcomed the change, and some even felt that the act should’ve been enforced decades earlier.
Among the key issues of concern to smokers is that under Regulation 11 (1) (d) of the Tobacco Control Regulation (PPKHT) Regulations 2004 (amended) 2018 - it has placed such a high compound on the perpetrator or the owner of the premises who failed to comply with the latest non-smoking area regulation. Convicted (offender or the owner of the premises) if found guilty, can be fined RM250 to RM350.
This issue has also been brought to court by several individuals to challenge the legitimacy of the smoking ban act which allegedly violates the rights and freedoms of individuals. They demand that smokers be given equal rights (as per non-smokers) to visit and spend time at the dining premises whilst smoking as usual. However, the court rejected their appeal after considering various factors - including the right of the public to protect themselves from the harm of cigarette smoke.
New Regulation For The Health & Well-being Of The Society
From a health perspective, the distorted thinking such as, “I dare you to stop me, I have the right to smoke” and “I am well aware of the health risk, but why do people still bother” is no longer valid as an argument to continue smoking. This is because, ironically, the disadvantages of smoking not only affect the smoker but those who are nearby simultaneously inhaling the poisonous substances as well. These innocent individuals and children passively yet involuntarily being exposed to the consequences on a daily basis. This phenomenon is called secondhand smoke or passive smoker.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), second-hand smoke is a phenomenon that is dangerous and detrimental to all parties. In fact, based on recent medical studies, passive smokers have highly exposed the same long-term effects as hardcore smokers! These include heart disease, lung failure and cancer.
From the social aspect, we all must agree in stating that cigarette smoke irritates, burdens and disrupts the social atmosphere due to its unpleasant odor and haziness. This makes the people around them very uncomfortable at times. In addition, cigarette smoke has also been categorized as a form of air pollution that can threaten the well-being of society.
Does Our Society Follow The New Regulation?
Although the inclusion of open dining premises as part of the new regulation was initially welcomed positively by the public and authorities. The Covid-19 pandemic and post-MCO atmosphere have inadvertently put the focus of the premises owner and the authorities on the enforcement of Outbreak Prevention SOP rendering the smoking ban to be under-regulated. This causes the smoking habit throughout dining premises to become a commonality once again, in doing so jeopardizing the comfort and well-being of other customers.
In the meantime, there are numerous reports and complaints about those who still smoke in various restricted areas shamelessly. This shows that there are still individuals in our society who are clearly selfish. Isn’t it obvious? They are the ones who will light up a cigarette even when there is a small child or a pregnant woman nearby - without the slightest hesitation. Whilst some are well aware that their actions make others uncomfortable and parlous, others still wouldn't bat an eye.
Therefore, many people think that laws & regulations accompanied by strict enforcement can prevent this unhealthy and perilous habit. Although only 23 areas are banned (so far), it would still have had a wide impact on public health & welfare when it's fully adhered to by society.
What Is It Like In Other Countries?
Countries with strict non-smoking laws & regulations include Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Canada and more. These countries also impose high compounds on anyone who does not comply with their smoking control policies.
Meanwhile, countries that have weak regulations on public smoking include the United States, China and India. These countries' policies on smoking in public places are highly varied, ranging from no specific regulation to vague and inconsistent non-smoking restrictions.
The smoking ban is an essential step in transforming a society that is more sensitive - and less ignorant - to individual health and the well-being of the community. Since cigarette smoke offers nothing but detrimental consequences, it is hoped that we can all respect and adhere to these 23 Non-Smoking Area Regulations to ensure a healthier, less egocentric and blissful society. As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
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