KUALA LUMPUR: The minister of health today said the government intends to keep increasing the number of public places where smoking will be prohibited.
“Day by day, we will update the list with more public places, like launderettes, where people smoke outside and contribute to passive smoking by children and others,” Dzulkefly Ahmad told reporters at a press conference, after visiting a few restaurants in Cheras this morning.
The ban on smoking at restaurants and eateries takes effect today.
Currently, premises where smoking is prohibited include eateries in shop lots and on private land or any other place that serves food such as food trucks and food stalls. Restaurants serving food “on air” such as rooftop restaurants are also included.
The minister greeted and handed out brochures to restaurant patrons with information on the places where smoking is now prohibited. He also handed out no-smoking signs to restaurant owners.
Dzulkefly told reporters that during the initial grace period of six months, the authorities would not resort to punitive enforcement.
“For now, we will enforce the ban through education enforcement, where we will provide explanations to people caught smoking or to the premise owners, so no one will be left behind on knowing the reasons why we are enforcing a smoking ban.
“We are not here to punish, we want Malaysians to take care and take ownership of their health,” he said.
He added that over 3,000 premise and restaurant owners had been briefed on the standard operating procedures and methods of enforcing the ban, during townhall meetings with the ministry.
“We will enforce the compounds, but after six months. There will be no back-tracking,” he assured, adding that the ministry’s 5,008 health officers would be empowered to issue compound notices.
“We have an established SOP. Our officers are very well-trained, they will know when to issue a compound and when not to issue a compound,” he added.
Previously it was reported that the ministry of health was not increasing the number of enforcement staff or funding to enforce the ban on smoking.
Effective today, customers caught smoking in eateries can be fined a maximum of RM10,000 or jailed up to two years, while restaurant operators who fail to put up no-smoking signs face a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or jail time of up to six months. Restaurant owners can also be fined RM5,000 or six months’ jail if they allow smoking on their premises.
Many restaurant and coffeeshop owners and smokers’ rights groups are opposing the ban.
Yesterday, one such group filed for a judicial review on the ban. The group, “Defenders of Smokers’ Rights”, claimed the ban infringed their rights under the constitution, saying that “smoking is not a criminal activity under Malaysian laws”.
It added: “The government did not take any step to meet smokers and listen to our grouses before making the decision to impose the ban.”
The group said the government had collected a large amount in taxes from tobacco companies, and that it had never imposed a ban on smoking in the past.
Responding to the judicial review application, Dzulkefly said the group had a right to express its disagreement in a democratic country.
“We are more than willing to see them in court, as we know very well that we are on firm ground,” he said.
Patrons give smoking ban the thumbs up
FMT spoke to a few people in the Cheras area to gauge their reactions to the smoking ban.
Wan Noor Fadillah, 37, who was having brunch with her four young children welcomed the ban.
“Sometimes the people beside us in restaurants would still smoke even if they saw me and my young children. Even if they try to blow the smoke elsewhere, it always comes back to us somehow,” she told FMT.
She said smokers at restaurants created an uncomfortable eating environment for children and non-smokers like her.
Her youngest child is one year old and her eldest, nine years old. She said the ban would be good for their health.
“So at least even though there would still be smokers around they wouldn’t be around my children when we are eating,” she said.
Soleha Adnan, 32, who has two children aged four and six, also agreed with the smoking ban.
“Before this, I sometimes would just roll my eyes at the person who was smoking next to my table, but now I thank God I no longer have to do that,” she said.
The president of the Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) Ayub Khan, told FMT that the smoking ban was a step in the right direction.
“But more needs to be done to reduce the actual number of smokers,” he said.
He also welcomed the six-month grace period, saying that the public and restaurant owners needed time to get used to the new law.
Ayub disagreed that the ban would be bad for the restaurant business. “People can still smoke elsewhere,” he added.