Picture this: You’re at your favourite eatery having a nice meal, and suddenly, a few people around you start lighting up their cigarettes or puffing on their vapes. A choking experience isn’t it, especially if you are a non-smoker? It’s worse if you have children or elderly people with or around you.
Starting 1 Jan 2019 (that’s tomorrow!), the ban on smoking at air-conditioned and non air-conditioned eateries, coffee shops as well as open-air hawker centre and stalls throughout the nation takes effect. The gazettement, under the Control of Tobacco Product Act, aims to protect non-smokers and children from the dangers of secondhand smoke. While the policy is still getting a mixed reaction from Malaysians, Malaysian Women’s Action for Tobacco Control and Health (MyWatch) medical director Dr. Zarihah Mohd Zain welcomes the ruling.
“Steps toward achieving public health are always best done earlier compared to later. Protection against the threat of air pollution (especially indoor air) from the highly poisonous tobacco smoke should have been done long ago,” says Dr. Zarihah.
“There are overwhelming scientific evidence proving that tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 compounds, mostly very toxic materials, that can lead to fatal conditions like cancer, heart and lung diseases,” she says, adding that studies worldwide have shown that implementation of smoke-free areas have led to reduction of the above conditions in citizens.
“Commitment from the Ministry of Health as policy maker and enforcers of the legislation is key. However nationwide support from the masses is also critical to ensure success of the effort,” says Dr. Zarihah.
Meanwhile, National Cancer Society president, Dr. Saunthari Somasundaram says a study revealed that 40% of secondhand smoking happens in restaurants.
“Seven out of 10 who walk into restaurants are exposed to secondhand smoke. Restaurants are a big issue when you think about who the patrons are. Of course late at night, there are adults, but at breakfast, lunch and dinner, there are families. And, the most susceptible to this, who don’t have a choice, are children,” says Dr. Saunthari.
She adds that keeping silent about one’s right to have a smoke-free environment is not going to solve the problem because the companies associated with tobacco aren’t silent about it.
“The companies push back tremendously and non-smokers think ‘eh, ok lah, the government is doing something about it’. That mentality has to change. Some smokers try to be kind by holding the cigarette away or towards the ground when smoking, but it makes no difference because the smoke is going to be in the air. So, the only safe level is really, no tobacco whatsoever,” she says.
We reached out to four local celebs to find out their thoughts on this ban, and how they would approach those who disobey it in front of them. Afterall, the Health Ministry wants the public to be its ‘eyes and ears’ once the smoking ban kicks in!
Nadia Heng, Miss World Malaysia 2010/emcee
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“In all honesty, I would simply say ‘I’m sorry to intrude, but are you aware that smoking in public places has been banned? Would greatly appreciate if you could put out the cigarette. Thank you’. I fully support the ban for three reasons. Firstly, this ban will significantly reduce the exposure of non-smokers to secondhand smoke. I also think that with less visibility, it may see a drop in young smokers picking up the habit, and finally I hope it will result in less litter. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing cigarette butts everywhere – nothing to kill the mood than swimming in the ocean only to see ciggie butts or discovering them embedded in the sandy beaches.”