Cigarette puffers feel the heat

Bangkok, February 13:

Once upon a time cigarette smokers could enjoy themselves across Southeast Asia, puffing in bars, restaurants and hotel lobbies without fear of fines or scolding. Those carefree days for tobacco puffers in this traditionally smoker-friendly region are going up in smoke.

Malaysia and Thailand, where smoking bans already exist in air-conditioned restaurants, government offices, airports and other public venues like shopping malls, are now seriously considering making bars and other entertainment venues no-smoking zones.

“Actually the government wanted to sign the law last December,” said Prakit Vathesatogkit, head of Thailand’s Anti-Smoking Foundation, “It’s just that the officials had not prepared the documents to include bars and night clubs in the bill banning smoking in hotel lobbies, but the minister was ready to sign them.”

Thailand, which along with Singapore is at the forefront of the region’s anti-smoking campaign, has enacted a host of restrictions on the tobacco industry including bans

on cigarette advertisements, on smoking in most public places and requirements that all cigarette packs include graphic photos depicting the ill effects of tobacco on health. Last year the government banned cigarette displays at points of sale, making Thailand only

the third country in the world to do so.

The result? Thailand’s puffer population has stagnated at about 10 million over the past decade, falling as a percentage of the population. “We estimate there are four million less smokers than would have been without two decades of anti-smoking campaigns,” said Prakit.

In Singapore, smoking in buses and cinemas was banned way back in 1970 and is now prohibited in schools, courts, buses, taxis and air-conditioned public places as well as pools, open air stadiums, bus shelters and toilets.

“Any person caught smoking in these places is liable to be prosecuted in court for a fine of up to $618,” said a spokeswoman for Singapore’s Health Promotion Board.

Singapore smokers made up only 12.6 per cent of the population in 2004, one of the lowest rates in the world.

In Malaysia, the health ministry recently announced that discotheques, bars and outdoor recreation parks would soon be designated non-smoking areas. The ministry plans to hike tobacco taxes by another 13 per cent this year. In 2004, the government launched a $27-million, five-year anti-smoking drive dubbed ‘Tak Nak’ or ‘Don’t Want It’, but it is facing tough

resistance from Malaysian puffers, who account for five million of the country’s 23 million people. “The efforts against smoking are not achieving much,” admitted Mohamed Idris

of the Consumers Association in Penang, “The smoking habit is being successfully promoted and new smokers are still being recruited every day.”

Indonesia, wh-ere 62 per cent of adult men are smokers, ranks fifth among the world’s leading tobacco consumers. The government’s anti-smoking efforts have run into serious opposition.

A ban on smoking in all public places in capital Jakarta was announced last year but went into force only this month, giving puffers a year-long grace period to adjust to the city ordinance that sets a $5,000 fine and six-month jail penalty for violations.