A long think about smoking zones — Hafidz Baharom

JANUARY 9 — And so, the Minister for Housing and Local Government has allocated RM1 million for the establishment of smoking zones, much to public outcry from doctors and anti-tobacco activists. That’s fine – after all, we are moving towards a more democratic society where everyone can voice their opinions, even if it’s against red lanterns for Chinese New Year.

Zuraida Kamaruddin is in the right to establish such facilities, especially if you think about the long term goal of what it means for smokers. The establishment of smoking zones now, would mean that there is a future facility to isolate smokers further than just 3 metres from a restaurant or eatery.

And for the naysayers, even Japan knows better by setting up smoking facilities.

At the same time, should local councils now be advised to start fining people for littering, it would mean that smokers have no other alternative than to seek a trash can or a smoking zone in the future. Similarly, pubs might start looking at serving bottles and plastic cups in order for their clientele to go seek out a smoking area.

The fact that Zuraida even encouraged restaurants to set up such facilities is also due to the finances being allocated by government being a small amount, thus putting the onus of catering to customers wants on business owners themselves.

However, will this somehow stop smokers from smoking, or even discourage them from the habit of smoking? Not so much. The fact that cancer rates are now increasing among non-smoking women is a clear sign that the government is not doing enough.

This is because we have yet to consider other bylaws when it comes to housing and private property as well as public property when it comes to smoking. For example, other countries ban smokers from smoking in cars when there are child passengers – something Malaysia has yet to do. Other countries also fine road litterbugs, which definitely would stop people from smoking while driving.

Another thing most countries do is to have smoke detectors in houses as mandatory. This disallows smoking in houses, forcing smokers to seek an outdoor balcony or even go down to the lobby to have a cigarette outside. At the same time, it allows for better response times should there be a fire.

In fact, implement this in government offices and public owned infrastructures, and it will make a huge difference in discouraging smokers in the civil service.

These measures will push smokers to reconsider lighting up where they will cause the most damage from secondhand smoke.

From the retail side, it seems the anti-tobacco lobby in Malaysia have given up on two fights – the first being plain packaging, the second being the banning of public displays of cigarettes. In other words, out of sight, out of mind. Though, we have to give credit where due to Customs for their continued activity in reducing illicit cigarettes.

For some reason or another, both of these have been abandoned while both would be effective in cutting down the purchasing of cigarettes. And of course, the government should adopt harm reduction by allowing vaping rather than smoking, especially when there is no evidence of secondhand harm thus far.

However, neither of this will be beneficial to health in the long run because government has taken a soft hand towards air pollution coming from vehicle emissions. You don’t have to go far, just have a construction site in the vicinity and take a look at the truck emissions going in and out of the area. 

Unless government is serious about tackling vehicle emissions, especially heavy vehicles, we will still see increasing health problems due to air pollution. From Korea to London, vehicle emission reduction is key to lowering health effects from pollution, not just smoking.

This would of course require the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Climate Change, the Home Ministry, as well as the Ministry of Health to take action. Honestly, allowing local council and the police to check emissions would be a welcome start rather than rely on specific enforcers from the Road Transport Department and the Environmental Department to take lead.

Or better yet, adopt emissions cameras as London does, in order to monitor and automate the process.

A lot more needs to be done when it comes to lowering air pollution and having healthy lungs than just doctors yelling about cigarettes, which is a short sighted approach to healthcare when you look at other nations. There is a good reason for metropoles to focus on public transport, focusing on pedestrians and even looking at subsidising greener modes of transport such as electric vehicles and bicycles.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail

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