Health groups in a huff over funding for areas to puff

Smokers are prohibited to light up at any place closer than three metres to a restaurant.

PETALING JAYA: Two health interest groups have denounced Putrajaya’s support for designated smoking areas in places where it is an offence to light up.

Speaking to FMT, spokesmen for the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy and the Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health (MyWATCH) said the move to fund the setting up of smoking zones was regressive and contradictory.

They were commenting on Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin’s announcement that local authorities wishing to establish smoking areas in public places could apply for funding from her ministry.

The smoking ban at eateries, which has been in force since Jan 1, means smokers cannot smoke at any place closer than three metres to a restaurant.

Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said the government’s offer did not make sense and showed that it was not worried about wasting taxpayers’ money.

The designation of smoke-free zones, he said, was guided by decades of scientific research as well as evidence that it resulted in improved health, reductions in hospital admissions and savings from lowered incidents of smoking-related illnesses.

He challenged Putrajaya to provide evidence of benefits from the establishment of smoking zones.

He said it was “baffling” that designated smoking areas would be established in Malaysia when other countries around the world were considering the introduction or expansion of smoke-free areas.

He noted that the health ministry’s regulations and existing laws were clear regarding the areas that must be smoke-free.

“Smokers are free to smoke elsewhere, which is pretty much most of the country,” he said. “What more do they want?

“This development sends a contradictory and confusing message to the public regarding the government’s commitment to the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, which are currently crippling the country’s health finances.”

MyWATCH medical director Dr Zarihah Zain said she believed the idea for smoking areas was politically motivated since it would not benefit anyone.

“Smoking is already allowed practically anywhere else outside of restaurants,” she said. “Why the need for specific smoking areas?

“This only makes sense if the government completely bans smoking in public.”

Setting up smoke-free zones, she said, made it harder for smokers to light up and would push them to quit.

“Smoking areas will just make it easier for people to smoke and this negates the smoking ban at eateries,” she added.