Every year, more than 20,000 men and women in Malaysia die of complications from smoking. The government has to bear nearly RM7.4 billion for the treatment of illnesses linked to smoking, such as lung cancer and coronary heart disease.
Aimed at reducing the cost of treatment, the Health Ministry of Malaysia came up with the most affordable way to curb the problem – a smoking ban.
Effective from the 1st of January 2019, smoking is banned in all eateries nationwide. We asked Malaysians smokers and non-smokers about the Jan 2019 ban, and whether it’s affected their lives since it came into effect. Here are their responses:
Is the smoking ban effective?
Surprisingly, Malaysian smokers and non-smokers see eye-to-eye about the smoking ban’s influence: It does little-to-no help on this matter.
For Lisa, many customers who are smokers frequently visit the restaurant she works at. Despite the ban, a handful of loyal customers ignore the “NO SMOKING” sign and continue to puff sticks of tobacco.
The restaurant owner, wary of offending his clientele, stops his new customers from smoking at the premise, but turns a blind eye when it comes to his loyal customers.
Certainly, smoking is a personal choice. K, a postgraduate of Universiti Malaysia Sabah, used to place smokers in her bad books back in high school. She would discuss smokers who smoke in public as if they’re criminals.
Now, having cheekily tried a few puffs herself, she respects individuals’ choice to smoke. Nevertheless, she still finds it rude when people light up a cigarette in restaurants and at the mamak.
When she asked the restaurant workers about it, they replied:
“We have put up the sign as required and even stopped selling cigarettes there. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that we can do to stop customers from smoking.”
She said, “It’s just the Malaysian attitude. Imagine going to the mall or fast food outlets, smokers won’t smoke, because it’s an air-conditioned area.”
No impact on quitting the smoking habit
Lee and Nash both feel that the ban didn’t encourage them to quit smoking.
Lee, who usually smokes in the comfort of her own home, does not feel the impact of the smoking ban on her smoking habits. Having three children herself, she understands the sentiment of other parents when they are out having a meal with their families.
According to Nash, he had always distanced himself from others when he wants to light one up. After all, walking three meters away to smoke is not a big deal.
“To be honest, it doesn’t make much of a difference since it will only take 10 feet for me to be away from a restaurant. That’s what I do even before the ban was implemented because I’m aware of the second-hand smoking effects.”
Although the smoking ban didn’t seem helpful for Nash to quit his cigarette addiction, he quoted Singapore’s own smoking laws, saying:
“If they truly want Malaysians to lead a healthier lifestyle – the government should prohibit the sale of cigarettes entirely.”
K’s opinion is that when it comes to quitting, smokers need to do it voluntarily, as enforcement can’t be there all the time.
Should Restaurant Owners Be Allowed To Issue Fines?
Despite the negative feedback, both Malaysian smokers and non-smokers are still positive about the move on banning smoking at eateries.
Lee said, “People, especially families who would want to have a nice time outside can enjoy without second-hand cigarette smoke.”
According to K, the effectiveness of the ban could increase if restaurant managers are given the authority to issue fines, as officers would not be present at the time someone smokes.
If restaurant managers were to be put into authority, they should be prepared with solid proof of the person smoking before taking any further actions. Repetitive offenders should be fined more.
How hard is it to quit smoking?
Nash, who has been a smoker for eight years now was also convinced that it could help relieve stress – and it did. He soon got addicted, and there would not be a day that went by without him taking a puff.
When asked if he’s ever thought of quitting, he said, “I’ve tried to, many times. I’m taking steps. It’s so difficult. The withdrawal effect is almost unbearable. I won’t have any appetite to eat.”
Lee started smoking to stay awake while prepping for her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) final exams. An innocent goal to remain awake had now turned into a strong, almost unbreakable habit for Lee.
“The mood swings were so bad. I felt unwell. I couldn’t eat well, I couldn’t sleep well. I was angry all the time, about everything, but I don’t know why.”
After struggling to quit for a couple of months recently, she started smoking again. She has been smoking for about 30 years now.
If you want to quit smoking, there’s hope
Surely, it is a tough habit to break. Malaysian smokers when probed did not say much as they are still tied to the deadly addiction.
I asked Lee for her advice to those who wanted to quit smoking. She humbly replied, “I am struggling too. You just have to be strong. Really strong. Mentally. Physically. Emotionally.”
Nash, recalling a piece of advice he gave himself, said: “Just quit it and think about the healthy, non-smoker self you used to be.”
The government has put measures to provide free rehabilitation that is widely known and informed to smokers in Malaysia. Jomquit is available for smokers who have thought of withdrawing from smoking.
Help is provided on-site as well as off-site where designated healthcare stations will be equipped with the right professional assistance that smokers would be needing.
If you’re a smoker and you’ve ever thought about quitting, why not start today?
For more stories about smoking, read Want to Stop Smoking? Here Are 5 Ways Malaysians Kicked the Nicotine Habit and I Was a Smoker for 20 Years. Here are 5 Ways Which Helped Me Quit.