Sabah smokers and restaurants voluntarily follow smoking ban

Many local eateries and coffee shops in Kota Kinabalu have complied with the federal government anti smoking laws to put up no smoking signs but are not actively banning smoking in their outlets. — Picture by Julia Chan
Many local eateries and coffee shops in Kota Kinabalu have complied with the federal government anti smoking laws to put up no smoking signs but are not actively banning smoking in their outlets. — Picture by Julia Chan

KOTA KINABALU, Jan 2 – Although Sabah has not yet adopted a federal ban on smoking at restaurants, many outlets have voluntarily put up “no smoking” signs.

A quick survey on local eateries, coffee shops and mamak outlets here showed a few noticeably new “no smoking signs,” while restaurant owners also reported many of their smoking customers went out to smoke at the premises’ periphery.

Although operators say that they have been confused with contradictory messages between the federal and state governments, most, if not all, have put up signs but do not go out of their way to enforce them.

“Many of my regulars have been good about smoking outside the shop. Some start to light up, but when they see the signs, they walk out on their own, even without me saying anything,” said Ronnie Ting, a shop owner in Kasigui, Penampang.

“Most of the smokers understand. But some still insist on smoking, saying that the state government has not enforced the law so its not applicable here and then they ignore me. What can I do?” he said.

He however said that he hoped the state government would come out with a clearer message because eateries were still confused as day two of the nationwide ban began.

“It is frustrating because we have to handle our customers carefully. What do we tell them? I put up the signs but its not enforceable. What are we supposed to tell our customers?” he said.

Ting said that although it may cost some business, he was in support of it because it was worth it for a better environment and also for children who come to the restaurant with their families.

“It’s also a lot cleaner because the floor is not littered with cigarette butts,” he added.

Other businesses, like the BTC and Maimunah chain of restaurants as well as individually-owned eateries, have also put up new signs today.

Some of the operators said that they put up the signs to comply with the federal ban, but were confused as to how it would be enforced. Most said that a majority of patrons were getting up to smoke outside, but there were also a handful who lit up at tables located on sidewalks.

“I think as long as it's not enforced yet here, I will smoke outdoors. I’d rather there be a smoking section, but standing outside is not too much to ask for I guess. But the fine is too harsh though,” said a smoker who declined to be named.

Federal Health Ministry officials have been making the rounds to announce the ban in Sabah, but the state government led by Parti Warisan Sabah has insisted on bringing the subject up in the state Cabinet before it decides on whether to amend local by-laws.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Jaujan Sambakong said that smokers in Sabah had about a week before the Cabinet meets to decide on how to proceed.

In the ban enforced in Peninsula, anyone found guilty of smoking in prohibited areas can be fined up to RM10,000 or jailed up to two years under Regulation 11 of the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004.

Premise or vehicle owners and operators who fail to display the smoking ban signage can be fined up to RM3,000 or jailed up to six months under Regulation 12 of the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 2004.

However, the federal government has announced a six-month grace period.

Sarawak under the Gabungan Parti Sarawak administration is also not complying with the ban.