Smokers Bending the Three-Metre Ruling

Last update: 28/01/2019

By Sakini Mohd Said

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- While most operators and patrons of eateries are abiding by the Health Ministry's no-smoking ruling that came into effect on Jan 1, there is still confusion over the three-metre-radius within which smoking is prohibited.

The confusion has led to some patrons making their own interpretations and ending up smoking within the prohibited zone.

According to the Control of Tobacco Products (Amendment) Regulations 2018 enforced on Jan1, smoking is banned in "any premises whether inside or outside a building, where food is prepared, served or sold" and "any area within a radius of three metres from any table or chair which is placed for the purpose of preparing, serving or selling food".

At a Thai food stall in a food court in Taman Melawati, Ulu Kelang, for example, when a worker approached a man who was smoking at his table, the latter nonchalantly said that he could smoke as he was seated more than three metres from the stall's kitchen.

"I had told him politely that if he wanted to smoke, he had to do it three metres away but his reply shocked me!" said the worker, who only wanted to be identified as Ina.

She said in the first week of the ban, the patrons adhered to the no-smoking ruling but a week later, the smokers slowly started to show their "true colours".

Ina said she has also seen some hardcore smokers lighting up at the food court whilst seated at the corner table situated adjacent to the motorcycle parking lot.

"They would go there to smoke and then return to their own table to eat. When we reprimanded them, they insisted that it was okay for them to smoke there as the corner table was more than three metres from the table located closest to the stall," she said.

UNCLEAR OVER THREE METRES

According to Ina, the stallholders at the food court where she worked were still unclear about the exact method of calculating the three-metre radius.

"For example, which is the exact place from where we measure the three metres?" she asked.

A restaurant helper who only wanted to be identified as Shafiq said the Indian Muslim restaurant where he worked in Wangsa Maju also faced the same problem.

He said many diners have asked him about the three-metre ruling but he himself did not have an answer to that.

"It's giving me a headache. Usually, restaurants like ours will place tables outside (the premises) at night, either on the roadside or pedestrian walkway.

"I've asked the enforcement personnel how do we go about calculating the three metres and was told by some of them that it starts from the restaurant door. This means that those who are seated outside are free to smoke as their tables are more than three metres away," said Shafiq.

MORE CLARIFICATION NEEDED

Zarina Abdullah, a private-sector employee, said the Health Ministry should produce a special video to indicate how the three-metre no-smoking radius is calculated at food premises and also where smokers are allowed to take a puff.

She said the video should take into consideration the various types of premises, including stalls, because of their different layout structures.

"The different layouts are making the public confused as to how to determine the three-metre distance. Calculating the distance is not difficult but the layout of some restaurants is confusing smokers," she said, adding that some smokers have even taken to smoking behind the wall just outside the restaurant thinking that it was perfectly alright for them to do so as they were not exhaling the smoke on other diners.

Some smokers, meanwhile, are paying no heed to the no-smoking ban at restaurants as they are, apparently, blissfully unaware that they can be fined if caught smoking.

"They know about the no-smoking ban but don't know about the regulations concerned or the fines, so that's why they are taking it lightly and continuing to smoke in restaurants," said a restaurant owner's son, who only wanted to be known as Muhammad.

"But they do get worried when we tell them about the new regulations (Control of Tobacco Products [Amendment] Regulations) under which the ban is gazetted and the fines if caught smoking."

At his restaurant in Setiawangsa, no-smoking posters have been put up at every nook and cranny to remind diners of the ban but Muhammad feels that information pertaining to the regulations which prohibit smoking in restaurants and the fines should have also been included in the poster.

"There should also be a Health Ministry hotline number for us to call just in case we come across a stubborn smoker," he said.

WARNING

During the first six months of the no-smoking ruling at restaurants, offenders will be let off with a verbal warning. After the six-month period, offenders face a maximum fine of RM10,000 or two-year jail term.

Food premise operators who fail to display no-smoking signs face a maximum fine of RM3,000 or six months jail, and also another maximum RM5,000 fine or one-year jail for not enforcing the smoking ban.

Since the enforcement of the no-smoking ruling on Jan 1, a total of 13,724 warnings have been issued while 75,280 individuals have been advised against smoking at restaurants during the first eight days of this month, according to Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

The ministry's enforcement officials have visited 30,548 food premises up to Jan 8 and have distributed 76,274 copies of brochures to educate smokers on the ban.

Muhammad said it was not just the responsibility of the ministry to ensure the success of the no-smoking ruling but also that of restaurant owners, smokers and the general public.

"Once our existing stock of cigarettes gets sold, we will stop selling them in our restaurant," he added.

Translated by Rema Nambiar

-- BERNAMA