PETALING JAYA: The proposal for dedicated eateries for smokers to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke has faced opposition from a former deputy health minister and a restaurant group.
Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said the focus should be on heightening enforcement to protect the public from secondhand smoke.
“A designated restaurant for smokers would not be effective. The main objective should be to reduce smoking habits altogether,” he told FMT, adding that prevention would effectively protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke.
Lee noted that while the smoking ban seemed promising in 2019, its effectiveness diminished after the movement control order, suggesting a decrease in enforcement.
The prohibition of smoking in all restaurants, coffee shops and hawker stalls throughout the country took effect on Jan 1, 2019, following amendments to the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004.
Lee also pointed out that most countries which enforced similar non-smoking regulations either imposed a complete ban or partition a small, designated area for smokers.
Jawahar Ali Taib Khan, president of the Malaysian Indian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association, also rejected the idea of dedicated eateries for smokers, citing impracticality based on previous experience.
“It’s a flawed concept. Even in the past, such as in airports with designated smoking rooms, we observed people still smoke wherever they preferred,” he said.
He said the issue was the smokers’ attitude, not enforcement.
“Even when enforcement officers from the health ministry are present, they are often disrespected,” he said.
Jawahar also suggested that the ministry look into a clause that unfairly burdens restaurant owners, making them liable to fines or jail if smokers are caught on their premises.
He said restaurant owners and employees lack the authority to enforce smoking bans effectively and often face hostility when trying to do so.
“Even the health ministry’s officers face harsh response from the smokers. Imagine the situation for our restaurant owners and staff, who have no power to enforce these rules,” he said.
On Monday, Tumpat MP Mumtaz Nawi urged the government to consider classifying separate restaurants for smokers and non-smokers.
By doing so, she said, the public, especially children and pregnant women, would be better protected from exposure to secondhand smoke.