KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — The Housing and Local Government Ministry’s plan to form designated smoking zones undermines the Health Ministry’s smoking ban at eateries, anti-tobacco advocates said.
They also said that smokers and vapers can still light up or puff anywhere else in public, as only 23 places have been gazetted as restricted public areas for smoking, such as pubs, bars, and restaurants.
Fifty-six medical associations, professional bodies and NGOs slammed Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin’s recent announcement that her ministry would be allocating RM1 million for designated smoking zones in public areas to be built for smokers.
The decision came days after the Ministry of Health (MOH) finally enforced a smoking ban in restaurants from January 1, fining people who smoke or vape within the premises of restricted areas, including at open-air eateries.
Representing the 56 groups, spokespeople from the Malaysian Public Health Specialists Association (PPPKAM), the National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM), and the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC) said Zuraida’s announcement on setting up designated smoking areas seems to “re-normalise” smoking.
“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 told a press conference at the NCSM headquarters here.
“Why, even Islamic authorities have classified smoking as illegal for Muslims, through a fatwa,” he added.
“So, the move by KPKT can give a message that goes against the healthy living lifestyle and the fatwa by the Islamic authorities, as well as support that unhealthy practice.” KPKT is the Housing and Local Government Ministry.
Dr Zainal also noted that the RM1 million allocation by Zuraida would only apply to the 20 per cent of Malaysians who smoke, and proposed for the money to be used for treating smokers or patients affected by secondhand smoke instead.
He added that the 56 groups, including his own, support the move by KPKT and MOH to provide public ashtrays, but said having ashtrays and smoking zones are two completely different matters.
“Ashtrays are only in place to enable smokers to smoke without affecting the environment by throwing cigarette butts everywhere, while smoking zones are like recreation spots, and seems to encourage smokers to smoke.
“As such, we urge KPKT to recant the implementation of the smoking zones, and technical discussions with KPKT, societies, and the people is convened immediately.”
NCSM medical director Dr M. Murallitharan, who was also at the same press conference, said the 56 groups were not disrespecting the rights of smokers or against the setting up of ashtrays in public.
“What we’re saying is not just telling you all, ‘Don’t come out to these areas or stay in your house’, or that you shouldn’t smoke beyond 3m of these areas, or don’t prepare places to throw the ash. No problem, go ahead with that.
“But do we need to have luxury settings, like a hotel? We don’t need that.”
The 33 restricted public areas for smoking include hospitals, indoor facilities, schools, mosques, government buildings, parks, and shopping malls. Eateries have been included in the list, and as of January 1 this year, those who smoke within three metres of eateries risk being fined RM10,000, or jailed up to two years.
The MCTC, meanwhile, is waiting for KPKT to respond to their request for a meeting so that they can explain their objections to the designated smoking areas in person. MCTC also claimed it was not consulted over the move prior to it being announced.
MCTC vice-president Shaari Ahmad Junid, however, dismissed talk of protests if the designated smoking zones go ahead as planned, saying the anti-smoking group will call for another press conference if it doesn’t get to meet Zuraida by January 18.
Zuraida has similarly been slammed online by physicians on her plan to build “luxury” designated smoking areas in public, complete with a seat, shelter, and ashtray, with similar calls for the RM1 million allocation to go towards helping smokers quit, and not encourage the addiction.
She has also been criticised for allowing restaurants to set up smaller designated smoking areas with canopies three metres away from their premises, funded by the businesses themselves, based on KPKT guidelines that have yet to be released.