It's all systems go for the nationwide smoking ban at all eateries and restaurants in Malaysia that started yesterday (Jan 1).
Malaysian Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad said enforcement officers would focus more on educating the public for now. "These policies will take time to implement, so we want to step up awareness first," he said.
He reiterated that for the first six months, Health Ministry officers would not issue fines but take note of repeat offenders. "The state health departments will also be working with local councils to enforce the smoking ban," he said.
Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly also urged eatery owners to advise those smoking on their premises to refrain from doing so.
"There has been a lot of attention on the campaign, and the response from the public has been overwhelming," he said.
Despite the detractors, most people were supportive of the ban as smoking would affect vulnerable groups such as young children and pregnant women, he added.
Dr Dzulkefly's deputy, Dr Lee Boon Chye, said the ministry's 5,008 health officers and assistant health officers would start making their rounds.
To keep the momentum going throughout the year, Dr Lee said the most important thing would be to keep the enforcement and awareness campaign consistent.
He noted that although the ban was slated to take effect only from yesterday, the ministry has seen a good response from the public.
"In fact, if you go to any restaurant now, there is hardly anyone smoking inside, whether the outlet is air-conditioned or not," he said.
Social media campaigns to spread awareness of the smoking ban would continue, said Dr Lee. "On top of these, we will also go to the ground to drive home the message."
Last October, the ministry announced that smoking would be banned in all restaurants, coffee shops and hawker centres - even open-air eateries - nationwide starting this year.
Those caught smoking in prohibited areas will be fined up to RM10,000 (S$3,300) or face two years' jail, while eateries found to have allowed customers to light up will be slapped with a maximum fine of RM2,500.
Smokers are, however, permitted to light up 3m away from the establishments. Besides tobacco products, vape and shisha with nicotine have also been included in the ban.
Eatery operators are required to display prominently at least a 40cm x 50cm "no-smoking" poster on their premises. Facilities for smokers, such as smoking rooms and ashtrays, are not allowed.