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Blow away the real smoke before asking our neighbour to put out the fire

Publication Date : 27-06-2014

 

It's that time of the year again. The haze is back in town. The throat is parched, the nose is blocked. The masks are out and the doctors’ waiting rooms are filling up.

This annual bother – the smoky skies, the cloying feeling – really gets on my nerves. I hate walking around in a cloud of smoke.

And there seems to be nothing we can do about it except complain to the neighbours and offer to help them put out the fires in Sumatra.

It’s not just Indonesia that’s bringing us the problem. It’s Malaysians, too. Just a few days ago, I was on my ritual trip north on the North-South Experessway.

From Bertam to Alor Setar, smoke was billowing out of the villages. It could have been open burning or peat fires. Either way, the fires were burning and the poor PlusRonda guys could only stand by and watch. There were no firemen, no enforcement officers.

There has been so little done in enforcing the law against open burning. But one can understand why. Given that such fires are burning all the way from Malacca and Sepang, enforcement is indeed well near impossible.

Which brings me to my point.

If we cannot enforce open burning that’s leading to haze along the hundreds of kilometres of highway, how do we intend to enforce a no-smoking rule at rest and recreation areas along the highways?

The health ministry, in all its good intention, is proposing a smoking ban at all R&Rs, with a strange addition that the ban will encompass a three kilometre radius from the rest area.

I assume they are also talking about lay-bys and the parking stops along the highway as well.

There are about 25 R&Rs, 45 laybys and four overhead-bridge restaurants along the North-South Expressway alone. Who is going to police all these places?

I guess the ministry could call in the local councils but I would think the councils are already hard-pressed trying to get people to stop smoking at more important places. Like hospitals, for instance.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against a ban on smoking. I’ve been a non-smoker all my life, so it’s no skin off my back.

When I was very young, a teacher told me that contrary to popular thought, it wasn’t manly to smoke.

“You follow the crowd and smoke and you think that’s manly? No! Stand up against the crowd and tell them you won’t smoke. Now, that’s manly” he said. I decided I wanted to be manly.

Manly, not silly. Which is why I think the smoking ban on the R&R areas is not quite well thought-out. Sure, put up no smoking signs at the food stalls and get the foodstall workers to point out the signs if somebody lights up. But the rule, if I read it right, is that the ban is even at the car parks and for a three kilometre radius around the rest areas.

Pray tell me, which R&R spans three kilometres? Is Plus going to put up signs along the highway like it does with speed limits?

“R&R 3km away. You are entering a no-smoking zone.” Then, three kilometres further down the road: “End of no smoking zone. You may smoke now.”

How about those who smoke while driving past the R&Rs? Will there be roadblocks to stop them too?

I tell you, there are going to be cars speeding past R&Rs and parking some three kilometres away just so the drivers can light up. I know these smokers. I’ve got many of them as buddies.

The ministry would do better to get our Indonesian friends to stop sending their smoke signals over from Sumatra. That is what is really killing us. A bunch of guys lighting up in a rest area where exhaust fumes from buses, lorries and a large number of cars are already choking us is not going to make much of a difference.

Talking of smoke from Indonesia, there is also all those illegal kretek stuff coming from there. Now, that’s another thing the ministry might want to go after. I can live with cigarette smoke but the smell of kretek cigarettes is something else.

I may be a non-smoker but I think we should give the poor smokers a little open space for themselves, at least at the car parks of the rest areas. The world is getting increasingly cramped for them.

Oh, and another thing. I would rather have them smoking at the car park than on the highway proper. If there is one thing I really cannot stand, it’s the sight of a smoker with one hand on the wheel and the other draped lazily outside the window with his cigarettes burning slowly.

And using the whole highway as one giant ashtray.

 

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