Backlash Won’t Stop Zuraida’s Designated Smoking Areas Plan

The housing and local government minister says her administration needs to facilitate the needs of the people, even those who light up.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — Despite protests from anti-tobacco groups, the Housing and Local Government Ministry said it will proceed to form designated smoking zones in public and outside eateries.

Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin told CodeBlue that her administration has to facilitate the needs of every citizen, even those who smoke, as it is the government’s responsibility and duty to do so.

“Our initiative is to support and facilitate MOH’s policy,” she added, referring to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) ongoing enforcement of a nationwide smoking ban in restaurants and open-air eateries.

“It’s under our jurisdiction that we can allow such structures; MOH does not have the mechanism.”

She also said that the plan will proceed as planned, adding that it is “all by request and the proposer’s budget”.

Zuraida’s comments came barely hours after 56 medical associations, professional bodies and NGOs slammed her recent announcement to allocate RM1 million in funding for designated smoking zones in public areas, complete with seats, a canopy-style shelter, and ashtray.

Representing the groups, spokespeople from the Malaysian Public Health Specialists Association (PPPKAM), the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM), and the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) raised concerns of designated smoking areas undermining the objectives of the smoking ban.

“Smoking zones in the middle of public places, as has been erected by the Ampang Jaya City Council, will give the picture of re-normalisation (of smoking) where young people will see smoking as something accepted by society,” PPPKAM president Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar added during a press conference today.

Asked for comments on these two matters, Zuraida, who is also the Ampang MP, said she would let MOH respond to them.

She similarly passed the buck over to MOH when asked to respond to calls online from physicians, as well as from today’s press conference by anti-tobacco advocates, that the designated smoking areas in public are “luxurious” and unnecessary.

“After all, the objective of the policy was to ban smoking within the eateries with a three metre limit,” she said.

Concerns have also been raised about the so-called exorbitant RM1 million fund, which critics said could be used for treating smokers or patients affected by secondhand smoke.

Critics further slammed the Housing and Local Government Ministry for allowing restaurants to set up smaller designated smoking areas with canopies, funded by the businesses themselves, based on the ministry’s guidelines that have yet to be released.

A ministry spokesman could not confirm, at press time, when the guidelines would be released.

Zuraida, meanwhile, said she has yet to see a letter from MCTC requesting to meet her and relay in person their objections against the smoking zones, as claimed by MCTC vice-president Shaari Ahmad Junid today.

MCTC, among others, said that the anti-smoking umbrella group representing over 40 NGOs was not consulted over the move prior to it being announced by Zuraida. MCTC added that it would call for another press conference to announce their next move if it doesn’t get to meet Zuraida by January 18.

MOH has finally enforced a smoking ban in restaurants from January 1 this year, fining people who smoke or vape within the premises of restricted areas, including at open-air eateries. Those who smoke within three metres of eateries risk being fined RM10,000, or jailed up to two years, if prosecuted in court.

So far, MOH has issued RM250 compounds against smokers and restaurant owners for smoking-related violations.

Members of the public can still light up or puff in public though, as only 23 places have been gazetted as restricted public areas, including hospitals, indoor facilities, schools, mosques, government buildings, parks, and shopping malls.

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