‘Consider federal laws carefully before enforcing them in Sarawak’

Voon Lee Shan

KUCHING, Dec 26: The Sarawak government should consider the political and local environment before enforcing laws passed in Parliament, suggests former Batu Lintang assemblyman Voon Lee Shan.

In the case of the recent smoking ban issue, Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye announced in October that all restaurants, coffee shops, open-air hawker centres and street stalls would be designated smoke-free areas beginning Jan 1, 2019.

Those breaching the ban can be slapped with a RM10,000 fine, while eateries that fail to enforce the law could be fined RM2,500.

The Control of Tobacco Product (Amendment) Regulations 2017 prohibits smoking in 21 areas, including hospitals, public toilets, lifts, government premises as well as air-conditioned shops and offices.

“We do not doubt the power of Parliament to enact laws relating to ‘medicine and health under Section 14 of the federal list of the Federal Constitution and to consider nicotine in cigarettes as poison under Poison Act 1983, but can the Minister of Health restricts smoking at designated places under section 36 (2)(d) Food Act 1983?” Voon asked in a statement today.

He argued that smoking involved freedom of expression and freedom of choice. This freedom gives rise to a competing interest between smokers who chose to smoke against non-smokers whose health needs to be protected against the smoke of the smokers.

“It could be argued that the Health Minister has no power to restrict smoking only at designated places. Smoking is not a criminal offence, and since smokers are not criminals, there seems smokers have a right of movement.

“This right of movement of a smoker is protected under the Federal Constitution, like any other ordinary citizens. With the protection of freedom under the Federal Constitution, a smoker can say, ‘You don’t like me smoking, you can go away and why do I have to leave here and find a place to smoke away from you?’” opined Voon.

He added that places to smoke had something to do with land and building, and as far as conditions of use of land and buildings are concerned, these are regulated by the Sarawak Land Code and by-laws of the local authority of Sarawak.

“Parliament should not get the Health Minister to bulldoze the law into Sarawak. It is, therefore, for the local authority of Sarawak to consider the political and local environment before enforcing the law passed by Parliament,” he said.

“It is therefore for the state government of Sarawak to overcome the competing interests of the smokers and non smokers in the state.”

On Dec 24, state Minister of Local Government and Housing Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian said Sarawak would enforce a smoking ban in accordance with the Local Government Ordinance.

Dr Sim said while the state government fully backed the ban, the state would do it on its own way. It would be enforced in the state once the relevant local ordinances have been amended.— DayakDaily