The health ministry will not compromise when it comes to the health of non-smokers although it respects the rights of smokers, said Deputy Minister Lee Boon Chye.
He said the smoking ban at all restaurants and food premises beginning Jan 1 did not prevent smokers from having their puff — but they needed to smoke far away from prohibited areas.
“The government respects those who do not smoke and respects the rights of smokers. We will not stop those who want to smoke but it has to be in an open area so that it does not affect the health of others,” he said after attending a gotong-royong programme at Kampung Rapat Jaya Tambahan here today.
Yesterday, it was reported in a local daily that the Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association (Primas) had asked the government to postpone the ban as smoking was a habit and heavy smokers would find it hard to kick the habit. Under the law, smoking is only allowed 3m away from eateries.
The report also mentioned that restaurant operators had no power to reprimand customers who smoke at their premises, thus making it difficult to prevent such acts.
Customers caught smoking in eateries can be fined a maximum of RM10,000 or jailed up to two years, while restaurant operators who fail to put up no-smoking signs face a fine not exceeding RM3,000 or jail time of up to six months. Restaurant owners can also be fined RM5,000 or six months jail if they allow smoking on their premises.
Lee said the ministry took note of the views of all parties, including restaurant operators, but there were several factors that had led to the smoking ban, one of which was the harmful effects of cigarette smoke.
“The first is that smoking is dangerous and harms health, not just for smokers but also non-smokers, who are exposed to cigarette smoke.
“The second is the trend where the number of smokers among teens has been increasing, so the government is taking this matter seriously.
“Thirdly, in 2005 we signed an agreement with the World Health Organisation on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control with the target that the country would become a smoke-free nation by 2045,” he said.
Answering another question, Lee said no pharmaceutical company in the country was carrying out studies to make marijuana a medical drug at present.
He said that as long as the substance was not registered under the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency, owning or selling marijuana is illegal, even for medical purposes.
Yesterday, Thailand’s interim Parliament voted to allow the use of medical cannabis. Recreational use of the drug remains illegal.
The amendment to the Narcotics Bill was passed for the second and third readings. It will become effective once it is published on the Royal Gazette.
The National Legislative Assembly’s 166 members voted in favour of the change and there were no votes objecting to the motion. There were 13 members who abstained from the vote.