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Why hasn’t the ban on smoking in eateries worked?
Published on: Thursday, September 14, 2023
By: FMT, Danish Raja Reza
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Why hasn’t the ban on smoking in eateries worked?
Some patrons become confrontational when reminded of a smoking ban at eateries, says a proprietor.
PETALING JAYA: More than three years have passed since smoking was banned at all eateries across the country, yet many still act in flagrant disregard of the law.

With 30,684 compound notices issued for the offence nationwide last year, questions are being asked about the effectiveness of the ban.

Azrul Khalib, CEO of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said both eatery owners and patrons must change their attitudes so the purpose of the law can be achieved.

“No amount of new policies will make a difference if smokers continue to not care (about) the effect their smoking has on others, while non-smokers and businesses remain silent (with) those who ignore the ban.

“Social behaviour and attitudes must change if smoking in restaurants is to be reduced or eliminated altogether,” he told FMT.

Amendments to the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004 took effect on Jan 1, 2019, prohibiting smoking in all enclosed and open-air restaurants, coffee shops and hawker stalls throughout the country.

Under the law, anyone caught smoking at an eatery is liable to be fined, while proprietors and operators may be penalised if they provide facilities for smoking or fail to display “no smoking” signs at their outlets.

In the first six months following the imposition of the ban, the health ministry took a phased approach to the ban by focusing on advocacy and issuing warnings.

Enforcement was stepped up in the second half of 2019, with ministry officials conducting spot checks and handing out fines to those violating the ban.

Despite this, many patrons continue to light up at eateries even today.

Azrul said one of the key issues hindering enforcement is a lack of manpower.

“The stick rather than carrot approach is used, with the threat of penalties against smokers and businesses being used to ensure compliance.

“It often falls on the shoulders of health inspectors, (who) are few in number, to enforce (the law),” he said.

That, he said, leaves the responsibility of enforcing the ban squarely on the shoulders of operators. However, the risk of confrontation with customers may hold them back.

“Smokers may get aggressive or resort to insults and threats of violence if prevented from smoking in these eateries.

“Fellow diners play an important role in helping the eateries to enforce smoking bans. But, to be honest, all people want to do is eat their fried ‘kuey teow’ and mind their own business,” he said.

Azreen Salleh, 34, the owner of Seri Semporna Restaurant, said she has no difficulty confronting customers, but admits certain patrons tend to push back.

“When we see people smoking, we confront them. Sometimes they get up and leave and go to a place where they are able to smoke.

“Usually, the confrontational customers are older in age and cannot handle being told off. But we say this is for the benefit of all customers,” she said.

Azreen is aware that proprietors would be fined if they do not enforce the anti-smoking ban on both customers and employees, but agrees that the “no smoking” rule is for everyone’s benefit.

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