How improved indoor smoking regulations can reduce smoking in Malaysia

In 2019, the government announced a general smoking ban in all restaurants, whether indoors or outdoors. When the ban began, some were struggling to cope with the changes. News of fines was circulating and, at the same time, photos of people finding creative ways to get around the regulations.

However, these regulations were only applied to restaurants – and as restrictions ease and many of us start to venture out in public again, will we also see more smoking indoors or in? public spaces, crowded or not?

While this regulation has been effective in reducing smoking in restaurants, it has often caused smokers to head to nearby aisles instead. In the long run, the only thing it does is make things uncomfortable for smokers and non-smokers alike.

Countries like Japan have passed new regulations and laws to curb widespread smoking both outdoors and indoors, giving those unwilling to breathe second-hand smoke a choice for cleaner air.

Japan’s revised public smoking laws

Instead of just putting a blanket ban on smoking in restaurants, Japan’s new anti-smoking law no smoking inside, with some exclusions such as private lounges and cigarette bars. This anti-smoking law makes nearly 84% of covered restaurants in Japan smoke-free areas.

However, some restaurants and business owners may still allow smoking indoors, provided they comply with specific regulations:

  1. Limit smoking in designated rooms
  2. Children under 20 are not allowed in smoking rooms
  3. Different signs should be shown more clearly for what is allowed and what is not. For example, premises should prominently display “No Smoking, Designated Smoking Room or Smoking Area” signs.
  4. Must be less than 1,076 square feet or require smoking rooms

Anyone who breaks the rules could face a fine up to 300,000 yen (approximately RM11,282) for smokers and 500,000 yen (approximately RM18,804) for the owner of the facility. This requires facility owners to ensure that no one smokes on their premises or is at risk of punishment.

However, many Japanese citizens still find this new regulation inadequate, as more than half restaurants still allow smoking indoors. Not to mention that because of the indoor smoking ban, some have resorted to smoking outdoors near train stations and in parks.

To note: In some places in Japan it is forbidden to smoke while walking.

A no smoking sign while walking in Japan / Image Credit: 123rf

But this regulation gives the choice to all those concerned. For smokers, they may choose to dine in smoking areas so as not to affect others. And those who don’t wish to be affected by second-hand smoke might choose not to dine at restaurants that allow smoking.

If Malaysia were to make similar changes like these, the government would first have to put in place regulations for more smoking areas and stricter penalties for those breaking the law.

Show clear indications of the types of devices allowed

Another advantage of the regulations is the need to clearly indicate smoking and non-smoking areas. Both parties can visibly see if a restaurant has designated smoking areas or allows smokers just before they enter.

In Japan, they go even further with different or more specific smoking signs. Some signs say / allow vaping only, non-burning heat (HNB) devices only, or a mixture of the two.

The Japanese government has tightened these regulations so that storefronts are responsible for clearly indicating what is allowed on their premises. This change is also necessary to cope with the increase in the use of alternative smoking devices in their country. In 2019 alone, the use of HNB devices in Japan jumped to 30% while sales of combustible cigarettes fell by 43% in the past 5 years.

Image Credit: National survey on health and morbidity

If we turn our attention to Malaysia, a 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) highlighted that 21% of Malaysians who smoke use traditional combustible cigarettes, while 5% (around 1 million people) have instead opted for electronic cigarettes.

With so many people now using alternatives to tobacco, the government should also put in place appropriate regulations for these users, as they work differently compared to combustible cigarettes.

New regulations to act as the first step in the fight against smoking

In the second half of 2020, the Japanese government conducted a new health survey and found that the smoking rate among men had fell to 28.8% which represents a reduction of 2.3% compared to the survey they conducted in 2016. Combined with the rise of HNBs in Japan as well as the pandemic and the ban on smoking indoors, many have either given up on this habit or switched to less harmful alternatives.

Locally, if regulations like the above were to take place, such as the addition of smoking areas in shopping malls similar to KLIA or the potential establishment of separate regulations for combustible cigarettes and HNB, Malaysia could also see his number of cigarette smokers decrease.

A smoking area with a view of KLIA2 / Image credit: KLIA2

If the government was serious in its vision of making Malaysia a smoke-free nation by 2045, strict and specific regulations must be put in place. By enforcing more targeted laws, these can help change the habits of Malaysian smokers for the better.

Featured Image Credit: Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

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