ONCE again, the plight of smokers is in the limelight. There is a kind of acrimony harboured against the smokers who have been treated as a menace and second-class citizens accused of inflicting health hazards on non-smokers.
If banning smoking in all eateries by the federal government is not enough, some states are thinking of inflicting further restrictions on smoking. Penang proposed to turn Batu Feringgi – from the floating mosque in Tanjung Bungah to the Bay View Beach Resort at the border between Batu Feringgi and Teluk Bahang – into a smoke free zone.
We are in the dark as to the designated area. Does it include the whole of this area including residences, roads, back lanes or just the beach front? It would be ridiculous and inane to declare every nook and corner of Batu Feringgi as smoke free zone. It clearly infringes on the rights of the smokers who are not only taxpayers but are also voters. It is foolhardy for the state government to deny the rights of smokers as long as they exercise restraint and do not harm other people.
A blanket ban on smoking in this area would not necessarily improve the health of the people here compared to carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles plying this area. The emissions pose more potent health hazards.
The ban on smoking in eateries has not in any way reduced the number of smokers or the sale of cigarettes or reduced the cost of government healthcare.
Has the state government done any cost benefit analysis in proposing to implement this ruling? Such a legislation will negatively affect the happiness quotient of the smoking population.
The state government has shown an uncanny ability to antagonise voters by its recent actions.
Among other things is the more than 50% increase in assessment rates. Now it wants to penalise the smoking segments of society in Penang. It is not only proposing the smoking ban in Batu Feringgi but also in Bayan Baru, Balik Pulau, Bandar Sunway, Bertam and Nibong Tebal.
Does it really mean that anyone caught smoking in these districts will be prosecuted? Pursuant to this the government will have to ban the sale of cigarettes in these districts. It is mind boggling. Have the authorities reflected on the political implications of such actions?
Lest it be forgotten, good governance is based on the principles of a just society that not only allows freedom of choice but also balances the utilitarian, libertarian principles and moral dictates for a happy and harmonious existence. Law makers in the state should reflect on these.
Mohamed Ghouse Nasuruddin
Centre for Policy Research and International Studies
Universiti Sains Malaysia