Group challenging Health Ministry says making a stand for ‘bullied’ smokers

Protem chairman of Pertahankan Hak Perokok Mohd Hanizam Yunus speaks to Malay Mail in Kuala Lumpur January 3, 2019. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif
Protem chairman of Pertahankan Hak Perokok Mohd Hanizam Yunus speaks to Malay Mail in Kuala Lumpur January 3, 2019. ― Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 — A group that initiated a judicial review over the smoking ban introduced last Tuesday said it did so as a last recourse after failing to get the Health Ministry’s response to its engagement call.

Pertahankan Hak Perokok (PHP) protem committee chairman Mohd Hanizam Yunus said all the group wanted was for Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad to allow smoking in the open air as had been the practice, and engage with stakeholders on alternatives such as designated smoking zones, like in other countries.

“As was done previously, smokers were allowed to smoke outside and non-smokers allowed to dine inside. It is not like the smoke can enter through the glass barrier as most restaurants have existing segregated areas for smoking,” he told Malay Mail on the new smoking ban in restaurants.

Mohd Hanizam pointed out the group had requested a meeting with the ministry in December to propose alternatives to the nationwide ban but failed to elicit any response.

“You must have consultation with stakeholders before something is done. We are not against the government whatsoever and we only oppose the ban,” he said.

PHP filed an application for a judicial review in the High Court on December 31, the eve of the ban, and named the Health Ministry of Malaysia as the sole respondent.

Mohd Hanizam, who is also a Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) member in Gombak, said the group would not have gone to court if the ministry had engaged with them.

According to court documents filed, PHP is seeking a declaration that the smoking ban is unconstitutional, and an injunction to stop the ministry from enforcing it.

How it began

Mohd Hanizam explained the PHP protem committee was formed shortly after its current secretary, Mohd Laisani Dollah, suggested that a pro-smoking group be set up during a casual discussion on the government’s smoking ban.

“There were four of us, including myself and lawyer Mohd Haniff Khatri Abdulla, at the time.

“Following the motion to set up a committee, Mohd Haniff then also proposed measures to be considered through legal means should the ministry ultimately ignore our request,” he said.

He added Mohd Haniff also agreed to be appointed as the group’s legal advisor on a pro bono basis.

“All of us involved are doing this on a voluntary basis and we are not motivated by any form of sponsorship,” he said.

On December 19, the protem committee was formed and Mohd Hanizam was put in charge of PHP’s Facebook page to gauge public support.

The 52-year-old pointed out that the committee consisted of 20 people with each state represented by one member.

However, the group has faced an uphill task to get itself registered with the Registrar of Societies and has not received any reply on its registration status since December.

Upholding smokers’ right

Mohd Hanizam said the committee immediately got to work after its formation by engaging with stakeholders such as mamak restaurants to obtain information on the regulation.

Among other initiatives taken was also the setting up of a petition.

He pointed out that PHP also gathered research material from reputable sources, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) to support its claim that smoking in an open area was not as harmful as compared to an enclosed area, to be presented to the ministry for review.

“I personally think we smokers as law-abiding citizens have been bullied. We have no qualms about all this while when hospitals and government buildings are gazetted as non-smoking areas but when you include al-fresco dining establishments, then it has gone too far.

“We have certain rights too since we also contribute to the tobacco tax collected by the government,” Mohd Hanizam said.

Now that PHP has gained much needed media coverage following the judicial review application, Mohd Hanizam said he was very satisfied with the current feedback received from smokers nationwide.

“I have people leaving undesirable comments on our page and my personal Facebook account, but I counter them with pictures of prominent people smoking.

“It is not wrong to voice out as Pakatan Harapan is an administration that is willing to disagree on things,” he quipped.