PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It's all systems go for the nationwide smoking ban at all eateries and restaurants in Malaysia starting on Tuesday (Jan 1).
Malaysian Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr 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.
He also told eatery owners to advise those smoking in 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 said.
Dr Dzulkefly's deputy, Dr Lee Boon Chye, said the ministry's 5,008 health officers and assistant health officers would start to make their rounds.
"They will operate according to their schedules. We will maximise our rounds starting Tuesday and the officers will be checking for compliance.
"However, we will issue compounds only to recalcitrant offenders. For the first six months, the emphasis will be on advising the public," he said yesterday.
To keep the momentum going throughout the year, the Deputy Health Minister said the most important thing would be to keep the enforcement and awareness campaign consistent.
He noted that although the ban was to take effect only from today, the ministry has seen a good response from the public.
"In fact, if you go to any restaurants now, there are 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," he said.
In October, the ministry announced that smoking in all restaurants, coffeeshops and hawker centres - even open-air eateries - nationwide would be banned starting 2019.
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 are also included in the ban.
Eatery operators are required to display prominently at least a 40cm x 50cm "no-smoking" poster at their premises. Facilities for smokers such as smoking rooms and ashtrays are not allowed.
The public can lodge complaints about offenders directly to the ministry via its hotline.
On another note, Dr Lee's wish for the new year is that his ministry would be able to improve its services to the people.
"We also hope that the rakyat will give us time to deliver our promises," he said.