Report: USM data shows air quality better in Penang, Melaka after smoking ban

The state governments of Penang and Melaka were among the first to initiate the smoking ban before Putrajaya rolled out a nationwide policy last Tuesday. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
The state governments of Penang and Melaka were among the first to initiate the smoking ban before Putrajaya rolled out a nationwide policy last Tuesday. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 — A decade-long study by Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) in two states since 2009 indicates that the federal government’s nationwide ban on smoking in public is likely to improve the air quality.

The New Sunday Times today reported research by the local university on Penang and Melaka showed the Air Pollutant Index (API) readings in 85 places designated as no smoking zones had improved from “hazardous” to “good” compared to places within the same state where smoking was still allowed.

The state governments of Penang and Melaka were among the first to initiate the smoking ban before Putrajaya rolled out a nationwide policy last Tuesday.

An API reading measures air quality and starts from 0-50 which is “good”, 51-100 “moderate”, 101-200 “unhealthy”, 201-300 “very unhealthy” and more than 300 “hazardous”.

The news report cited USM research leader Maizurah Omar as saying people are more likely to be exposed to particle matter measuring less than 2.5 micrometre units (PM2.5) in places where smoking is not banned.

“These particles are small enough to be absorbed into our bloodstream directly,” she said.

“Imagine PM2.5 containing more than 7,000 chemicals emitted by cigarette smoke.

“It is smaller than haze particle matter at 10 micrometres (PM10).

“We found the highest level of PM2.5 particle matter recorded at entertainment centres where patrons could smoke.”

From January 1, 2019 all open-air eateries have been declared smoke-free areas, with smokers only allowed to puff three metres (10 feet) away from any premises.

Maizurah was also reported to be optimistic that Malaysians would buy into the new policy banning smoking in public within three years, referring to a study by the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation South-east Asia (Malaysia) titled “Promoting Evidence-Based Strategies to Fight the Global Tobacco Epidemic”.

“The smoke-free policy is easy to be followed by smokers because they understand the restriction is to accommodate non-smokers.

“They say if fewer people around them are smoking, it will deter them from lighting up and encourage them to quit.

“Smokers from our survey said they were able to discard their habit with the smoking ban,” she was quoted as saying.

However, Maizurah urged the authorities to expand the ban to areas frequented by youth as they were more prone to picking up the habit.

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