Groups protest govt plans for designated public smoking zones

Representatives of various NGOs hold posters in protest against designated public smoking zones, during a press conference at the National Cancer Society of Malaysia's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur January 10, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Representatives of various NGOs hold posters in protest against designated public smoking zones, during a press conference at the National Cancer Society of Malaysia's headquarters in Kuala Lumpur January 10, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — Over 50 non-governmental organisations assembled at the National Cancer Society of Malaysia here today protesting Putrajaya’s RM1 million plan to create designated public smoking zones nationwide.

Representatives from the 56 NGOs questioned the Housing and Local Government Ministry’s initiative and demanded it rescind the plan.

Malaysian Public Health Physicians Association president Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar told a news conference that the group supports the move by the Health Ministry to ban smoking at all eateries, while only gazetting 23 places for smokers.

“The Local Government and Housing Ministry took the step to support the gazettement, by creating smoking zones within the Ampang Jaya City Council. We do not agree with the creation of the smoking areas. Additionally, a RM1 million allocation would also be given to local councils.

“Therefore, we urge the KPKT to retract the implementation of the smoking areas, and hold a technical discussion between the KPKT and NGOs as well as the public, immediately,” he said, referring to the ministry by its Malay initials.

President of the Malaysian Association of Public Health Specialists Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar speaks during the press conference at the National Cancer Society Malaysia’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur January 10, 2020. ― Picture by Hari Anggara
President of the Malaysian Association of Public Health Specialists Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar speaks during the press conference at the National Cancer Society Malaysia’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur January 10, 2020. ― Picture by Hari Anggara

Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control secretary-general Mohd Shani Abdullah said the government has already enacted laws to ban smoking in public, but the ministry initiative would confuse the public.

He listed the Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 1993, Control of Tobacco Product Regulations 1993, which was amended in 1997 and the Food Hygiene Regulation 2009 among others.

“Public places have to be free from cigarette smoke, to protect everyone from its danger, which caused 20,000 deaths in Malaysia per year.

“Must also protect babies and children who are used to seeing people smoking and influenced by the habit, “he added.

The NGOs listed seven reasons to support their objection, namely pointing out smoking as an unhealthy lifestyle, and the effects it has on the public and the environment.

They also pointed out that smoking had in fact, also been declared as haram or illegal by an Islamic decree (fatwa) issued by religious bodies.

The NGOs lamented that the creation of smoking areas in places under the Ampang Jaya council’s jurisdiction, would also portray a “re-normalisation “of the habit, which would influence youngsters, that it is an acceptable lifestyle.

“It would also make it hard to create an intention to quit, or desire to stop smoking, because of the available smoking facilities.

“The problem of indiscriminate disposal of cigarette butts, is still not addressed, as via research and observations, smokers still discard their cigarette butts everywhere,” the NGOs said.

They added that the RM1 million allocation announced, should not be used to create smoking zones, “merely to satisfy the 20 per cent of smoking population.”

Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin was reported by Sinar Harian on Tuesday to have announced the designated public smoking zone plan involving 155 local councils nationwide.

Under the plan, RM5,000 would be channelled to each local council, which are to submit applications to the ministry after identifying suitable zones in their respective towns.

Enforcement against smoking in restaurants and other food establishments kicked in on January 1, after the government introduced a nationwide ban last year. 

Those wanting a smoke in public must ensure a three metre minimum distance from the nearest food establishment, which includes street stalls.

Anyone found guilty of the offence of smoking in banned 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.

For the offence of failing to ensure that nobody smokes and for providing smoking facilities, they can be fined up to RM5,000 or imprisoned up to one year.

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