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Operators: Why take it out on us?

Publish date: Sun, 03 Dec 2023, 08:26 AM

PETALING JAYA: Restaurant operators can’t do it on their own and want the authorities to lay down the law with anyone who smokes at their premises – merely putting up “no smoking” signs at eateries isn’t cutting it.

Just days ago, the Dewan Rakyat approved the revised Control of Smoking Products for Public Health 2023 Bill in efforts to control the habit among citizens, in particular minors.

The outdoor smoking ban, implemented just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020, has seen many smokers continuing to light up, apparently due to lax enforcement.

The Star found that there were a number of smokers flouting the law, which states that there should not be any lighting up within 3m of restaurants nationwide. The ban was enforced in January 2019, after the Control of Tobacco Products Regulations 2004 were amended.

Smokers could light up beyond the 3m distance. Those found smoking or vaping in prohibited areas could be issued a RM250 compound or face a RM10,000 fine.

The public could also lodge a report with the Health Ministry via a special smoking complaint line against restaurants that did not display “no smoking” signs or if diners smoked at an eatery.

Petaling Jaya Coffee Shop Association president Kue Kok Meng wants the relevant authorities to conduct regular inspections.

Fortunately, Kue said coffee shop owners in Petaling Jaya had yet to see a sharp increase in smokers violating the rule.

“There are still a handful who would sneak in a puff when dining at coffee shops.

“Our members have been trained to advise customers against smoking, and the Health Ministry and local council have conducted their rounds,” Kue said. “But honestly, it is not enough.”

The Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) said it hopes enforcement officers would be lenient with operators since it is the fault of smokers.

Its president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said measures to curb smoking have been put in place. “However, some patrons remain defiant.”

Yet, he said, Presma members were the ones who had to bear the brunt of irresponsible smokers, “even when they were the ones who reported their customers smoking.”

“One operator was penalised for not preventing the customers from smoking.

“The authorities take action against the operators even though the necessary warnings have been put up at the premises,” he told The Star.

Jawahar said that during a 2019 dialogue session with the ministry, restaurant owners were assured that no compound would be issued if their premises displayed the “no smoking” signs clearly.

“And that no ashtrays should be provided. Our members complied, so why should they pay for errant smokers’ fault?”

Jawahar also pointed out that smokers turned aggressive and violent when told not to smoke in a restaurant.

“When other customers complain of a fellow patron smoking, of course the waiters would advise the irresponsible diners not to smoke, but then the errant patron would get aggressive.”

“One customer even threatened to hit the waiter,” he said

While admitting that ministry officers had conducted their inspections, Jawahar said Presma would prefer a holistic approach to addressing the menace.

Former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said the ministry should be more proactive when it comes to enforcement measures at public places that prohibit smoking.

“The Health director-general has the authority to empower enforcement officers from other agencies, including the police, to curb smoking in places that prohibit the habit.

“Since the Covid-19 pandemic, I have noticed that enforcement has been lacking. We must look into this seriously.”

In its campaign to become a smoke-free city, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) held eight operations to curb outdoor smoking between January and November of this year.

A DBKL representative said two were held in collaboration with the Health Ministry.

“DBKL issued 23 compounds while the ministry issued 142 for smoking offences in restricted zones,” he said.

A Shah Alam City Council spokesman said the council would not conduct such operations unless the state Health Department requested a collaboration.

“The jurisdiction to take action against smoking offences falls under the state Health Department.”

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