Blatant disregard of smoking ban

Blatant disregard of smoking ban

ALTHOUGH smoking has been long banned in the core and buffer zones of the 259ha George Town Unesco World Heritage Site on Penang island, there are still smokers who wilfully flout the ruling.

During a recent StarMetro check at the heritage site’s non-smoking zones, a handful of smokers were seen blatantly ignoring the “no smoking” signs.

A freelancer seen smoking in the non-smoking zones said he was aware that it was an offence to do so in the area.

“I am a heavy smoker and it is really hard for me to refrain from smoking as I work in the area.

“Honestly, heavy smokers like me… we will still have to take a puff. Ban or no ban, smokers will continue with their habits.

“However, I will only smoke at places that do not have the ‘no smoking’ sign.

“I am very careful and will only smoke at places where there are no children or women nearby.

“I believe that as much as it is my right to smoke, it is also other people’s right not to be exposed to the smoke,” he said.

The 32-year-old suggested for the government to consider setting up more designated smoking areas for smokers.

“I heard that there used to be yellow semi-circle spots marked with smoking signs, which were introduced for those craving a puff in the George Town area but I think the paint has worn off.

“Maybe the related agencies can consider using old public telephone booths as designated smoking areas.

“Since it is an enclosed area, the smoke won’t affect non-smokers.

“My advice to smokers is, if they want to smoke, always be considerate,” he said.

Another smoker, a 45-year-old man, said he tried to smoke at designated areas but sometimes he could not help but take a puff in public areas.

“I have been smoking since I was 18 years old and sometimes, I smoke up to a pack of cigarettes a day.

“Since my job is stressful at times, smoking is my way of relieving stress.

“I try my best to smoke where no one is around me and I usually go to the back alley.

“I know that the George Town heritage enclave is a non-smoking zone but it is rather hard for me to control my urge to smoke. Sometimes, I am unable to work if I don’t take a puff.

“I have heard of the yellow semi- circles provided as smoking spots but I am not sure where they are located.

“And even if I knew, they would be too far from my workplace,” he said.

Non-smokers like Natasha Ng say they can no longer tolerate being victims of smokers in public places.

The 29-year-old accountant, who is asthmatic, said it was difficult for her to avoid people who smoke in open areas.

“Smoke from cigarettes or vapes is second-hand smoke to non-smokers like me.

“Smoking does not only have repercussions on smokers but also on people exposed to second-hand smoke, which can cause a serious health issues.

“This causes me to feel uneasy among smokers as I have been suffering from asthma since young and all types of smoke cause me to have shortness of breath.

“I work in the George Town area and it is rather difficult for me to avoid people who smoke in open areas,” she added.

Ng said she could still see people smoking in the heritage zone every now and then although it had been gazetted as a non-smoking zone.

“I hope that the authorities will conduct more frequent checks and issue compounds to the offenders.

“I would appreciate it if smokers smoke only in the designated areas to make the environment safer for people like me,” she said.

Penang environment and welfare committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the state Health Department had issued 4,376 compounds to those puffing at non-smoking zones in Penang between Jan 1 and Aug 15.

“The top three districts with the most compounds issued are the southwest district of Penang island with 895 compounds; followed by the northeast district of Penang island (883) and north Seberang Prai district on the mainland at 854.

“Although smokers have the right to smoke, they don’t have the right to contaminate the air.

“When you smoke, you expose your loved ones and friends to second-hand smoke.

“Since some smokers just cannot stop, and we do not want to be issuing fines all the time, we created the yellow semi-circle corners for them to light up,” said Phee.

He said that due to the Covid-19 movement control order for the past two years, maintenance could not be carried out and hence, most of the paint for the yellow semi- circles had faded.

“I have advised the state Health Department to repaint the yellow semi-circles as soon as possible.”

He said the state government believed in creating awareness through education.

“We encourage smokers to quit smoking and if they are unable to do so, they should smoke at designated areas only.

“We understand that old habits die hard but we will remind them that smoking is bad for health.

“The Health Department has always been using an educational enforcement approach.

“If the offenders listen, we will give them a verbal warning, but if they argue, we will give them a compound,” Phee added.

On July 4, 2015, all buildings and public spaces within the 259ha heritage site in George Town, except residential premises, were gazetted as no-smoking zones and enforcement began on Jan 1, 2016.

Smokers can be fined a maximum of RM10,000 or jailed up to two years upon conviction.

Yellow semi-circle spots marked with a smoking sign were later created for smokers.

About 30 such spots for smokers were marked in the city, away from public gathering areas.

While smoking corners are common in airports and hotels, George Town is believed to be the only no-smoking city in Malaysia that has several corners for smokers.

The corners are not roofed, so the smoke will dissipate quickly and smokers have to carry a portable ashtray.

Former state health committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin, who initiated the gazettement of designated smoking zones in the George Town Unesco World Heritage Site, said more promotional events and awareness campaigns should be carried out.

“Although non-smoking areas have been gazetted, I still see some people ignoring the ban.

“Some were even seen smoking at eateries,” he said.

On the Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022, Dr Afif said the Bill should be studied thoroughly and in depth before being passed.

“I advocate the smoke-free initiative but it is crucial to reduce the number of smokers through prevention efforts as well as through education.

“We should look into how to ramp up awareness activities and provide treatment instead of criminalising those who smoke.

“It would be more viable to regulate the content of the substance and regulate the amount of nicotine allowed in smoking devices and cigarettes.

“Tobacco is widely consumed and if we ban it completely among those born after Jan 1, 2007, it might encourage them to smoke illicitly, which may cause more social issues,” said Dr Afif.

Under the proposed Bill, otherwise known as the tobacco generational end game (GEG), children born in 2007 and subsequent years will be prohibited from smoking, buying or possessing any type of smoking product, including electronic cigarettes or vape products, even after reaching the age of 18.

Apart from this, shopkeepers and cigarette vendors are also not allowed to sell smoking products to those covered by the ban.

Health Ministry had initially proposed the ban to cover those born from Jan 1, 2005 onwards, but changed it to those born after Jan 1, 2007.

With the GEG, the government aims to reduce the smoking population to fewer than 5% by 2040.

The Bill was initially tabled by Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin in Parliament on July 27.

The Control of Tobacco Products and Smoking Bill 2022 was supposed to be tabled for a second reading in the Dewan Rakyat by Oct 6 but that did not materialise as Parliament was dissolved.

Meanwhile, Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) education officer N.V. Subbarow said more anti-smoking campaigns should be carried out to increase public awareness that the George Town heritage site is a non-smoking zone.

“The Health Department must invite other non-governmental organisations and trade associations or chambers to create anti-smoking zones in their buildings.

“Strict enforcement and fines can only do so much.

“More importantly, traders should stop selling loose cigarettes to underaged schoolchildren,” he said.

Subbarow said he noticed a lot of smokers were still flouting the law.

“I have spoken to many smokers who were smoking in this area. Some listened to me but others gave me a fierce look.

“We need more enforcement officers to go around the area and take action.

“Many don’t read the no-smoking warning signs and there are also foreign tourists who are ignorant of the law,” he added.

According to the World Health Organisation, the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people every year, including around 1.2 million deaths from exposure to second-hand smoke.

More than 4,000 chemicals have been identified in tobacco smoke and there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.

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