Drastic drop in number of complaints on smoking in eateries

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad (centre) says people are still lighting up in restaurants.

PUTRAJAYA: There has been a drastic drop in the number of complaints received by the health ministry about violations of the smoking ban in eateries, said Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad.

As a result, fewer warning letters are being issued.

However, he said this could also be due to people no longer reporting those who light up in public eateries and may not necessarily point to greater compliance with the regulation.

“The number of complaints is decreasing. This may either be because smokers understand the law or people are less motivated in reporting violations.”

However, he did acknowledge that more smokers were now observing the ban.

“Even though they still smoke, they do so some distance away,” he told a press conference during a convention to raise awareness for a smoking-free environment in conjunction with World No-Tobacco Day 2019 at Universiti Putra Malaysia.

From Dec 30, 2018 to Jan 6, 2019, the ministry received 3,959 complaints on its WhatsApp hotline, compared with only 362 from March 18 to March 24, 2019, and 255 complaints from May 20 to June 2, 2019.

A total of 25,574 warning letters have been issued. From Dec 30, 2018 to Jan 6, 2019 there were 11,047 warning letters, compared with 298 from March 18 to March 24, 2019.

However, the lower statistics are accompanied by a decreasing number of food premises being monitored. From Dec 30, 2018 to Jan 6, 2019, 23,985 premises were checked, compared with 4,138 from May 20 to June 2, 2019.

The health ministry also conducted a special operation on May 24 and 25, where 2,988 eateries were visited.

Dzulkefly noted that there were still people smoking at public eateries and some restaurant owners have not yet put up “No Smoking” signs.

“There will always be people rebelling. I don’t want to enforce any punitive measures but if they rebel, we’ll have no choice but to enforce the law.

“Ideally, we want people to believe that they should not be going against the law. Even if they still smoke, they must respect the law.

“But if they are stubborn and want to break the rules or challenge the law, then we’ll have no choice.”

He added that it may take years for Malaysians to truly embody a no-smoking culture, as has been observed in countries that have implemented similar laws.

He also said a special internal task force was set up yesterday to study the implementation of a ban on e-cigarettes.

Dzulkefly added that he may propose a rise in import duties for tobacco and alcohol products in the upcoming Budget to the Cabinet.