COMMENTARY, Oct 17 ― Over the years, the government has tried many ways to discourage smoking. Hiking up the prices of cigarettes (although it is still cheaper than in many other countries), prohibiting smoking in air-conditioned spaces and finally those gory pictures on cigarette packs.
And in 2003, tobacco advertising ― long under the guise of lifestyle ― was banned. Many an advertising agency and production house in Malaysia saw their income stream from working on these accounts dry up immediately.
And yet people smoke. According to a Wikipedia listing, 23 per cent of Malaysia's population smokes with an estimated 646 cigarettes smoked per adult annually.
Depending on where you work or live, that sounds either a lot or too little.
Let me give you an example: I started my career as a journalist at a time when smoking was allowed in the newsroom. Yes, indoors and air-conditioned.
Every afternoon when the reporters returned to file their stories and the sub-editors were in and starting to put the newspaper together, a thick pall of smoke hung in the air.
We, the non-smokers, had to suck it up. Literally.
Our rights and our health were trampled upon every day.
Fast forward to today when the government is trying (I say this because it is not yet cast in stone) to make smoking illegal everywhere. Even outdoors.
To prove they are serious, lawmakers and the reporters who cover Parliament proceedings are no longer allowed to smoke in the building. The designated space within the building which was used for smoking is now verboten to smokers.
And how do I, who only once tried smoking when I was 15, feel about this? Frankly, I am appalled.
The argument is that smoking harms non-smokers as health problems arising from inhaling second-hand smoke is a real concern. So, yes, I appreciate that smokers be kept away from us non-smokers.
BUT if they choose to harm themselves, let them, I say. Give them a space where they can smoke. In Japan, there are designated spaces within malls, airports and other buildings where people can smoke.
Then the argument is that the government spends a lot of money on treating those who have health problems brought about by smoking.
Yes, but then what about health problems brought about by eating too much sugar. Are we going to ban sugar? Or fat, or salt. You see where I am going, right?
I am glad I no longer work in a newsroom that is thick with cigarette smoke. Or have to put up with smoking in a club just because I want to listen to “live” music.
But if I am going to support civil liberties and human rights, then I have to support the rights of people who smoke. Let them. Just not near me.