Think tank hails ministry’s educative approach to smoking ban

The ban on smoking at all eateries nationwide came into effect on Jan 1.

PETALING JAYA: A think tank has welcomed the health ministry’s move to employ an educative approach to ensure people comply with the nationwide ban on smoking at eateries, calling it both realistic and sustainable.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said the ministry was clearly learning from the experience, failures and successes of other countries which have implemented similar blanket bans.

“This is done while taking into consideration the reality and practice of the Malaysian eating culture. It is aimed at creating an informed and educated population which is able to absorb a change in ingrained habits such as needing to smoke after a meal.

“Changes cannot happen overnight, nor with a single piece of legislation.

“Enforcement must not be overzealous and unyielding. It must be reasonable and rational. This is what the ministry is doing and this is why its approach is the right one in the long run.”

Azrul was asked to comment on the ministry’s educative approach in ensuring compliance with the ban for the next six months, instead of immediately taking punitive action against those who defy the ban.

He said taking punitive action and making examples out of a few individuals or eateries were populist measures and would not be effective.

“They are great for getting public attention but short on ensuring the effectiveness of the ban and the long-term impact which is to contribute towards healthy living practices among Malaysians,” he said.

He acknowledged that it would take several years to determine whether the ban had worked, but gave the example of smoking bans in other areas such as on commercial flights, which he said had already seen breakthroughs.

“Consider that up to the late 1990s, smoking was still permitted aboard a large number of commercial flights.

“Today, in-flight smoking on any flight of any duration has largely disappeared due to the international adoption of the no smoking rule.

“This type of success can be replicated in other settings as long as this campaign treats individuals as capable of making their own choices, of absorbing information and deciding to make changes to their lifestyle,” he said.

He highlighted the need for designated smoking areas, saying these should have been announced along with the ban.

However, he also cautioned that thought must be given to designated smoking zones, which should also be reasonable and marked out after consultation.

According to reports, ministry enforcement officers have issued at least 1,453 written warnings to individuals for disobeying the smoking ban in eateries, which came into effect on Jan 1.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad has repeatedly stated that no compounds will be issued during the first six months of the educational enforcement period.

Those found guilty of the offence of smoking in banned areas can be fined up to RM10,000 or jailed for up to two years under Regulation 11 of the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004.

Premises or vehicle owners and operators which fail to display the smoking ban signage can be fined up to RM3,000 or jailed for up to six months under Regulation 12 of the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004.

For the offence of failing to ensure that nobody smokes and for providing smoking facilities, he or she can be fined up to RM5,000 or imprisoned for up to one year.