KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 13 — The Housing and Local Government Ministry will review its RM1 million allocation to set up designated smoking zones in public, after criticism from medical groups.
Its minister, Zuraida Kamaruddin, added in a tweet on Saturday, that the RM1 million allocation for 155 local councils nationwide was to build 155 designated smoking areas, not just one smoking zone.
“It’s okay, I heard many views; the issue is ‘allocation’,” she tweeted to a netizen who pointed out the irony of netizens previously lauding the idea of a smoking zone as a good one, but once it had been announced, it was branded as a waste of money.
“The question of allocation, we will revise.”
If the RM1 million allocation was divided equally among the 155 local councils nationwide, each council would get around RM6,451 each.
Responding to one user who said that bigger and more “modern” styles of erecting such smoking zones would be costlier, Zuraida said her ministry would similarly review the matter as well.
She also told another person that she has taken note of public concerns that the smoking zone model is too big, likely referring to the smoking zone pilot programme in Ampang, which is Zuraida’s federal constituency. Zuraida said it could be made smaller.
Zuraida has come under fire from 56 medical associations, professional bodies and NGOs, who slammed the allocation of 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) last Friday raised concerns of designated smoking areas undermining the objectives of the nationwide smoking ban at public eateries, as well as giving the impression to young people that smoking is perfectly alright.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) also criticised Zuraida’s decision, saying smoking should not be encouraged in any form, adding that the rise in health issues and deaths associated with smoking in Malaysia is worrying.
Zuraida previously told CodeBlue that her ministry will proceed to form the designated smoking zones, despite the backlash, as her government has to facilitate the needs of every citizen, even those who light up.
Separately, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said he welcomes the move by Zuraida’s ministry to set up the smoking zones as his ministry cannot do so, but cautioned that they should comply with the existing regulation of staying three metres away from eateries.
He also reportedly said on Saturday that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has never treated smokers as enemies, but that “we just want them to observe the regulations”, according to the News Straits Times.
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.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is among local councils that will work closely with Zuraida’s ministry to set up designated smoking areas, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Samad said on Saturday, following in the footsteps of the Ampang Jaya City Council, and the Miri and Kuching South City Councils in Sarawak, both of which are mulling setting up smoking areas in their respective cities.