Eateries: What happened to the smoking ban?

KUALA LUMPUR – It appears that many food and beverage outlets are taking the no-smoking rule lightly.

Here is what a friend, who only wanted to be identified as Ejumpjawes, told me recently: “Do you know that these days if you are at a restaurant or stall and want to smoke after a meal, you don’t have to go outside. When I first noticed people smoking in restaurants and the owner and workers having no issues with it, I too started doing it.”

Advertisement

He said restaurant operators, currently, are more preoccupied with adhering to COVID-19 standard operating procedures such as recording the personal details of their customers, taking their body temperature and ensuring that they are wearing a mask.

I myself have seen people lighting up inside eateries and it is disconcerting to see them breaking the law so openly.

On Jan 1 this year, the government enforced Regulation 11 (1) (d) of the Control of Tobacco Products (Amendment) Regulations 2018, under which smoking is prohibited at all eateries. Those who need to smoke will have to do so at least three metres away from the outlet.

Those caught violating the regulation face a compound of RM250 which will be reduced to RM150 if it is settled within a month.

For the second offence, no discount will be offered and violators must pay RM250 in full. A higher compound of RM350 will be imposed on those who commit the offence for the third time and so on.

It is frustrating to see smokers lighting up in places where smoking is clearly prohibited. Worse still, they don’t seem to have the slightest feeling of guilt or shame that they are forcing non-smokers to inhale their toxic fumes.

Being single, I enjoy hanging out with my friends at a restaurant or stall after work or during the weekend or on public holidays and I have noticed that ever since restrictions on movements were eased, hard-core smokers are disregarding the no-smoking ruling in eateries.

Even before settling into my seat, I can catch a whiff of cigarette smoke. Just the thought of all those 4,000 hazardous chemicals buried in cigarette smoke polluting the air that we breathe is enough to spoil the mood of any passive smoker!

There was one occasion when a friend and I stopped at a food truck for dinner after work. Even before our food arrived, we were unceremoniously “served” cigarette smoke. The culprits, a group of men, were also having a meal at the same place.

It was so annoying. I stared at them and when they realised that they were being observed, they tried to hide their cigarettes and look as if they were not breaking any law.

I have found that of late people who smoke at eateries tend to conceal their cigarette butt or vape under their table once they know they are being watched by other customers.

My question is, don’t they see the no-smoking posters clearly plastered in every corner of the restaurant or food court? They probably have but pretend they don’t exist. Either that or they – both the customer and eatery owner – have blissfully forgotten about the no-smoking regulation that was enforced on Jan 1 this year.

Compounds can also be issued to the owners of food and beverage outlets if they don’t keep their premises free of cigarette smoke.

In fact, a one-year grace period was given before the regulation was fully enforced this year, which means that the public is well aware of the fact that smoking is not allowed at eateries.

In the initial stages of its enforcement, smokers used to comply with the ruling and only smoked in the designated areas. At one eatery in the Klang Valley I patronise regularly, I recently noticed that it no longer has a designated spot for smokers. On the contrary, smokers were seen happily puffing away at their tables.

It does seem that the authorities concerned are not really monitoring the enforcement of the no-smoking regulation and this probably explains why smokers and eatery operators are blatantly ignoring it.

But Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali was recently quoted as saying that the government would step up the enforcement of its no-smoking ruling in restaurants.

“We’ve not stopped enforcing the smoking ban,” he said, adding that the public perception that the ban is no longer in force is inaccurate as enforcement activities are currently focused on efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Dr Noor Azmi also urged the public to report to the Health Ministry’s enforcement officers if they come across individuals flouting the smoking ban.

Yes, all of us can play a part in ensuring that everyone heeds the regulation. If you want to report an errant smoker, just call 03-88924530 or send a message on WhatsApp/Telegram/SMS to 010-8608949.

As my parting shot, I would like to advise smokers to kick their bad habit and there is no better time to do it than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to preliminary research and analysis by the Ministry of Health on the number of deaths due to COVID-19, it was found that fatalities were higher among smokers compared to non-smokers. — BERNAMA