A little breathing space for smokers maybe?
A ban on smoking in Austrian bars and restaurants took effect Friday, making it one of the last European countries to stub out the habit in indoor public places after years of protracted debate and protests.

Introducing rules that might curb smoking is well and good, but it is also pertinent to do it humanely with a little finesse

pic by AFP

IF YOU’VE been to Manila lately, and you happen to be a smoker, you might think twice before going there again.

For the past couple of years, the Philippines administration has banned smoking at all public places. In short, Manila is hell for smokers.

You can only smoke at certain areas, which are usually hidden (and scarce), and if you’re caught red-handed by the authorities for smoking in public areas, you’d be fined on the spot.

Smoking in Manila is a rather tricky adventure. If you’re staying at reputable hotels in the more discerning areas like Makati District, you might be able to puff away at designated areas (usually on some rooftops or patios) where you’d also meet other “criminals” from various parts of the world.

The police, apart from making sure that everything in the city is in order, had also been empowered to slap you with a fine if you’re caught with a lit cigarette in public.

Another city that might have given the smokers the jitters for a very long time is Singapore.

Long before any other country started the no-smoking campaign, Singapore already had initiatives in place to curb smoking among its population.

As early as in the 90s, the republic’s authorities had already imposed strict rules for smokers. During the earlier period, any smoker would really have to ascertain if the coast was clear before they could lit up.

Scenes of a bunch of smokers huddled together at a specific spot over a puny ashtray would be something rather typical then.

Over the years, Singapore seems to have relaxed a little bit its “draconian” laws and is now seen as a little kinder to smokers.

If you’re a smoker who had just arrived at Changi Airport, you’d be assured that you are allowed to light your “cancer stick” (as some would describe it) at various selected air-conditioned or open-air smoking areas at all four terminals.

In fact, if you’re on transit with all the time to spare, you’d be surprised at how beautiful some of the outdoor smoking areas at Changi Airport are.

One of the interesting spots is styled as a cactus garden (picture the Grand Canyon) with ample ashtrays that would be cleared and cleaned diligently by the airport’s personnel.

While the Philippines seems to have taken the more extreme measures to prevent smokers from “tarnishing” Manila’s landscape, the Singaporeans might be a little kinder and more understanding.

Perhaps the Singaporeans have come to terms that smokers are big contributors to the country’s economy.

In this case, Malaysia — which seems to be too happy to persecute smokers by reducing their designated space — could perhaps emulate the southern neighbour.

Introducing rules that might curb smoking from becoming pandemic, especially among the younger generation, is well and good, but it is also pertinent to do it humanely with a little finesse.

Specific spaces for existing smokers are needed with ample ashtrays and bins that could contain all the filthy cigarette butts. Why? Well, let’s consider this fact. The Malaysian government collected RM12.5 billion from sin taxes between May 2018 and September this year.

Of the total, RM4.5 billion was from gambling, a whopping RM4.4 billion was from tobacco products while the remaining RM3.6 billion was from alcohol sales.

Now, did you know that some RM10 would go into the government’s coffers for each pack of cigarettes that is consumed?

That means, if you’re a smoker who could finish two packs of cigarettes per day, you are one of the active contributors to the country’s development and wellbeing — on a daily basis that is.

Smoking, like many other habits, is a choice. Some of us got trapped in it from our younger days, during a time when peer pressure was at its worst. Many of us managed to kick the habit, while some of us might find it difficult to stop.

While the more health-conscious people see the government’s move to impose higher taxes on tobacco products as among the ways to discourage the “deplorable habit”, the figures seem to say otherwise.

In fact, in 2017, RM3.94 billion in sin tax was collected from cigarettes and tobacco products, only half a billion ringgit less than the latest figures.

Since smokers are mainly diligent daily taxpayers, they should not be deprived of their little space, too. Just saying…

Zainal Alam Kadir is the executive editor of The Malaysian Reserve.