Confessions of a smoker

13 Jan 2019 / 19:30 H.

“I’M HEADING three metres out” is the new catch phrase in Malaysia for telling someone you are going for a smoke. At least, that was the phrase used recently during a family dinner when members had to step out for a cigarette.

Being an IQOS user, which still comes under the definition of “smoking” according to the Tobacco Control Regulation due to “inhaling and exhaling a nicotine product”, I still have to find a smoking zone or step out 3 metres away from an eatery to have a puff – even if I am using a “heat not burn” device.

Yes, it is a hassle but for the greater good – and no, I won’t be slapping waiters in Shah Alam if they tell me off when I get the distance wrong.

However, there is a need to point out that this ban has caused a different problem affecting local councils – littering. Thus, instead of smokers at restaurants using an ashtray after getting annoyed looks for using the floor, they now use whatever is convenient, with drains being the favourite choice.

Housing and Local Government Minister Zuraidah Kamaruddin said the government will look at enforcing smoking zones similar to Japan. That would be brilliant. However, those of us who have been to Japan, or watch clips of the country would know that Japan is less strict than we are when it comes to smoking.

For example, in Japan you have a smoker’s carriage on trains such as the ETS. There are also outdoor smoking areas in city centres – you can even find a smoking area near the Shibuya crossing.

Restaurants in Japan allow smoking indoors. Thus, if we are going to follow Japan, I have to wonder where you want to draw the line.

Malaysians have come up with some good ideas and some odd ones. A letter to an online portal suggested that smoking be allowed at open air eateries after 8pm because “no decent non-smoker would be out after such an hour”.

We should note the number of non-smoking youths who head to restaurants at night to watch professional wrestling or football matches.

Another suggestion was for restaurants to have seats outdoors three metres away from the premises to allow smokers to have their puff. I doubt local councils will permit parking lots to be used as ad-hoc seating areas.

However, talking to local restaurant waiters we understand problems are taking place among their smoking clientele. Customers who are regulars at night are grumbling over the ban. In the day, fewer customers do so. Baristas are looking at fewer customers at their cafes, waiters are lamenting over smaller crowds outdoors even when it is full indoors, and smokers in fact prefer to dine at home, while being told to go out to the balcony to smoke.

The last part happens at my house.

But there could be an interesting development if this smoking ban lasts long enough.

Will we see more Malay patrons going to pubs, since these are exempt from such laws? If anything, it will lead to some form of diversity that might cause the regulars on a pub crawl to sober up at such a sight.

Will families dine together at home more? After all, if mom or dad or both are smokers, leaving the table just to have a cigarette on the street seems rather unpleasant when compared to dining at home and heading out to their garden, porch or balcony.

Maybe fake grass sellers will see an increase in sales for outdoor furniture to cope with the demand for seating outside as a result. Perhaps even indoor air filters will get a boost as spouses and children complain of the smell of smoke permeating through the windows.

But more importantly, if there is anything a smoker is good at, it is adapting. Yes, there will be grumbles and complaints during the initial stage of implementation of the ban, but they will find a smoking zone.

They will shyly look around for another smoker as a sign post for the 3-metre buffer and join them, with a smile and a laugh at the ridiculousness of the rule as an icebreaker. And this will include the waiters of all creeds at restaurants, the executive who needs a break after a long day, the father of five who is taking five minutes away while mom looks after the kids, and even the college student who vapes and the writer with his IQOS.

But guess what? They still haven’t stopped smoking.

Hafidz Baharom is a public relations practitioner. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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