The government’s blanket move to ban smoking at eateries, coffee shops and restaurants, which came into effect at the start of the year, cannot be argued as anything but a good move from a health viewpoint, especially for non-smokers.

Strict enforcement hasn’t begun, but when it does kick in six months from now on July 1, those caught smoking (vaping and shisha included) in prohibited areas will be fined up to RM10,000 or face two years’ jail, while eateries will be penalised with a maximum fine of RM2,500 if they are found to contravene the ruling.

The push has been concerted, and as such, the topic has been getting a lot of attention and causing quite a debate. As expected, there has been resistance from smokers, which at the extreme end is calling the restriction unconstitutional, which is rather nutty.

As a smoker, I’m all for the move, but quite frankly don’t see the retention rates dropping and people giving up as a result of the new rules, rather it being a case of smokers shifting their operating sphere – what you will see of is an increase of the number of people randomly standing or huddling in an area anywhere three metres away from outdoor seating places like a mamak stall to puff away.

Nonetheless, fine move, because the idea behind taking it beyond enclosed spaces is that close proximities, even outdoors, still doesn’t remove the threat of second-hand smoke to a static, non-smoking crowd. As the health minister puts it, it’s to safeguard the health of Malaysians such as young children and the elderly, who cannot defend themselves against passive smoke from cigarettes in public places.

You can’t argue with that, but if you’re going to do one thing, then you should also be looking at other things beyond tobacco pollution in enclosed spaces and near outdoor eateries, because if the argument is that if you’re going to safeguard public health by declaring second-hand smoke as harmful, then you should also do so with static vehicle emissions, arguably more so because of the volumetric scope.

It’s a regular thing, really, parking by the roadside near an eatery with outdoor seating and letting the engine idle away, the culprits being the takeaway crowd (or those insisting that they need to find a parking lot in front of the makan place). We won’t even delve into those who sit in their car with the engine running inside covered car parks for extended periods, leaving it with the same angle as that taken by the ‘smoking at eateries’ route.

Petaling Jaya folk don’t have to look far – a good example are the roads around Uptown during dinner time, which contain a heady mix of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons permeating the air in locations where there is open air dining taking place, and although most noses seem to be insensitised to it (unless there are diesel culprits, and even then), it’s still all wafting in the air people breathe.

It would be a bit too much of a hope to ask drivers to kill their engines while waiting, given that no one really bothers about burning fuel with pump prices as they are, but here it goes anyway – do your bit for the environment and consider others, more so if you’re parked right in front of diners.

In many countries it is an offence to leave a vehicle engine running unnecessarily while stationary on a public road other than traffic conditions. Close to home, Singapore enforces this ruling with fines, of which stronger ones were introduced in 2016 in an effort to improve the country’s ambient air quality and, yes, safeguard public health.

So yes, all for it, the smoking ban at eateries, including that covering outdoor seating, but perhaps it may be time to take a harder look at the threat called unnecessary exhaust emissions, specifically at close quarters. After all, any controllable air pollution hazard is a hazard to human health, no matter what form it takes.

Do you think there should be enforcement of unnecessary engine idling, principally next to eateries with outdoor seating? Share your view and thoughts with us in the comments section, but keep it civil.