Wednesday June 27, 2012
Protecting passive smokers
By P. GUNASEGARAN
The time has come for the Government to introduce strong measures to protect non-smokers. It may offend smokers, but it has to be done in the interest of fairness.
AS an ex-smoker – the occasional puff does not a smoker make – I sympathise with the plight of the smoker and the real urge to light up periodically to satisfy the body’s craving for nicotine, a powerful, addictive poison.
I know and understand that the craving is not something imagined or psychological but very real, and that its deprivation at that point in time causes extreme anxiety until you can take that puff again.
So strong is the hold of nicotine on the body that addicts – that’s what most smokers are – will resort to the most ridiculous things just for a little bit of relief.
More than once, I have witnessed the totally undignified spectacle of smokers going through ashtrays for a stub which still had some tobacco in it when their supply had inadvertently dried up.
But much as I sympathise with them, they have to face up to and deal with the reality of their actions which not only does untold and irreparable damage to their bodies, but also causes serious health problems, discomfort and inconvenience to those around them.
In fact, smoking is said to be the number one preventable cause of diseases such as cancer, heart ailments, respiratory problems and so on.
My advice to younger people has always been to not take up the dirty habit in the first place because it is essentially an addiction, which like all addictions is difficult to give up.
There is a long list of people who have tried to give up and not succeeded – it took me many attempts before I could say that I was a non-smoker, and I sometimes jest that smoking is so easy to give up that I have done it many times.
There are two aspects in the fight against smoking, of which the first is to discourage people from smoking because of the obvious damage it does.
This takes two parts, of which the more important is to discourage more people, especially the young, from smoking and the other is to stop smokers from, well, smoking.
Since there can be no complete success from the first aspect in the fight against smoking, the second aspect is to control, yes, control those who insist on smoking.
The way to do that is to ensure that their habit has little or no impact on others.
That’s why over the years measures have been imposed to stop smoking in public places and to a allocate places for smoking.
But in Malaysia, this has simply not gone far enough.
Just walk into a restaurant just about anywhere.
If it’s a coffee shop, you will see people blatantly light up just about anywhere.
If it is a dining place, they will allocate a smoking space which usually takes up the best seats in the house because it is right next to the windows or the outdoors.
Dining alfresco becomes closed to non-smokers because they will be surrounded by smokers, who will be puffing away merrily and taking special attention not to blow the smoke in the direction of their smoking friends at the table by blowing it at other tables instead.
And if you are a non-smoker in a pub, heaven help you. The smoke is thick and strong, and coupled with the poor ventilation in many pubs especially on Friday nights, it is all but overwhelming.
When you come out of the pub you smell like an ashtray and almost feel like one.
One thing a smoker does not understand, just like a person who has never been a smoker will never understand a smoker’s addiction, is the aversion that many people have to smoke and especially side-stream smoke, which is even more noxious than that inhaled by the smoker.
Thus when a smoker lights up, he causes extreme discomfort to such people who now are often the majority in a group.
Common courtesy calls for smokers to refrain from lighting up in such circumstances.
But we can’t rely on common courtesy – it just does not work.
It is time the Government took more measures to protect non-smokers.
It should make smoking in all public places simply illegal and take measures to enforce it.
It is tough and it will offend many smokers, but it has to be done in the interest of fairness.
One can argue against banning smoking outright (it won’t work anyway, as it will force it underground with all the undesirable consequences), but the argument against that is that smokers are not harming anybody else and where will the bans stop? After smoking, then what? Alcohol? Sugar?
But when the actions of one clearly harm others as in smoking in public places in the vicinity of non-smokers, then you are impinging on the rights of others. And there must be clear, firm laws against that.
If a building does not have an isolated smoking area, then the smoker should be required to go on the sidewalk and smoke and dispose of his waste correctly and according to the law.
If a restaurant has a smoking area, it cannot be in a public building and it must be fully insulated against the non-smoking areas.
It should be much like a smoking cubicle in an airport rather than a dining area, and should be much smaller than the non-smoking area. Ditto for pubs and others.
Such a move, which is way overdue, will discourage smoking in the public realm and just might induce smokers to rethink their habit.
But in any case, the idea is to protect non-smokers from smoke and it is high time that they are.
Independent consultant and writer P. Gunasegaram wonders who will protect us from the smoke coming across the Straits of Malacca.