Malaysia smoking ban met with mixed reactions

The Jan.1 smoking-ban notice is placed in one of the open-air restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. (AN photo)
Updated 03 January 2019
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Malaysia smoking ban met with mixed reactions

  • Restaurant operators are mandated to place no-smoking signs in their premises or risk facing a fine of $726, as well as up to six months in jail

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia enforced a nationwide smoking ban on all restaurants, including public and open-air eateries on Tuesday, which has garnered mixed reactions from smokers and restaurant owners.
From the new year, both smokers and restaurant owners who do not comply with the anti-smoking law in the country may face heavy government penalties. Anyone caught smoking in eateries can be fined up to $2,500 or face up to two years in jail.
While most restaurants in Malaysia have already enforced the smoking ban, open-air eateries, coffee shops and “mamak-style” Indian restaurants, which are popular among Malaysians, are still lagging behind.
Many restaurant owners in Kuala Lumpur still allow their customers to smoke in their open-air areas.
On Tuesday, smokers could be seen huddling in parking lots, back alleys, bus and taxi stops, and even loading bay areas at shopping malls.
Restaurant owner Daljit Kumar Singh, who runs an Indian restaurant in Brickfields, told Arab News that he lauded the ban and views it as a step in the right direction. “I do not allow my customers to smoke in my restaurant,” he said. “If they want to smoke, they have to smoke outside of the restaurant,” said Singh, adding that smokers do not have the right to smoke in public, as second-hand smokers are exposed to harm.
“I have a friend who owns a bar and he also enforced a zero-smoking policy at the bar or inside the lounge,” he said. He believed the ban is not just good for health, but also good for business, as it brings in more health-conscious clientele.
However, several restaurant owners and smokers have reacted negatively towards the anti-smoking law. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the smoking ban has been put on hold due to lobbying from local coffeeshop groups.
One newly formed rights group that calls themselves the “defenders of smokers” group had filed a judicial review against Malaysia’s Health Ministry to overturn the ban and claimed that the ban was “against their constitutional rights,” according to local media reports.
Meanwhile, restaurant operators are mandated to place no-smoking signs in their premises or risk facing a fine of $726, as well as up to six months in jail. Restaurant owners that allow smoking at their eateries can be slapped with a fine of $1210 or a six-month jail term.
One smoker told Arab News her concerns about the ban.
“What really worries me are the legal implications of the ban because it criminalizes smoking in public,” Kuala Lumpur-based Maryam told Arab News. As a smoker, she said she tries to be mindful of others.
“Smoking is definitely not a fundamental human right but a prevalent cultural norm,” she said. “I think smoking advocates should focus their efforts on challenging the criminalization aspect of the ban.”
As a young professional, Asyraf told Arab News that the ban is a good initiative despite being a smoker himself. “I smoke a lot only when I am socializing, but I do not really smoke at home,” he said, adding that the policy may push him to quit smoking in the future.
“Some may feel something is missing when hanging out with friends, but this is just temporary. Once you get used to it, it may not be an issue anymore.”


Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

Updated 14 June 2019
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Blood donation in the Middle East: The gift of life that is easy to give

  • World Blood Donor Day observed on June 14 to raise awareness of the life-saving importance of blood donation
  • Regular, voluntary donors are vital worldwide for adequate supply of safe blood and blood products

DUBAI: Blood donations in the Middle East have been described as “the gift of life” as the region struggles to cope with the demands posed by conflicts, humanitarian emergencies and the medical needs of a growing population.

International health experts have called on regular donors to step forward to mark World Blood Donor Day on June 14.

This year’s campaign focuses on blood donation and universal access to safe blood transfusion, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more donors are needed “to step forward to give the gift of life.”

Those who benefit most from blood donations include people suffering from thalassaemia, a blood disorder that affects hemoglobin and the red blood cell count, as well as victims of road accidents, cancer patients and sickle-cell disease patients.

Experts say while the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have launched numerous initiatives to raise awareness of the lifesaving importance of blood donation, there is an increasing need across a wider region for regular donors.

“Many countries in the region face challenges in making sufficient blood available while also ensuring its quality and safety, especially during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts,” Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean, told Arab News.

The GCC countries say they collect in total more than 10 whole blood donations per 1,000 population per year, or about 1 percent, Al-Mandhari said.

According to WHO, blood donations by 1 to 3 percent of the population are sufficient to meet a country’s needs. Even so, achieving self-sufficiency is a daunting challenge for many countries.

Al-Mandhari said that more than 90 percent of the blood is collected from voluntary, unpaid donors, aged from 18 to 44, with an increasing proportion of repeat donors. What is more, blood demand is unpredictable and even differs with each blood type. “For example O- blood can be given to patients with all blood types. But AB+ can only be given to patients with AB+,” he said.

Then there is the issue of short shelf life.

“To be ready to help patients in all hospitals, countries aim to stock usually six days’ worth of each blood type at all times,” Al-Mandhari said. “Since blood has a short shelf life — a 42-day window — and cannot be stockpiled, blood banks are forced to depend on donors to help maintain stocks.”

WHO’s most recent report on blood safety and availability points to “gaps in the key elements of national blood systems” in the Middle East.

A Saudi donor flashes the v-sign for victory as he gives blood in Jeddah. The Kingdom has one of the highest rates of repeat donors in the region. (AFP )

While GCC countries have taken steps to keep stocks at optimum levels, other countries in the Middle East are lagging behind international standards. The WHO report shows wide variations in annual blood-donation rates among countries, ranging from 0.7 per 1,000 population in Yemen to 29 per 1,000 population in Lebanon.

Al-Mandhari laid out the solution in a few easy steps: “Governments need to provide adequate resources, and put in place systems and infrastructure to increase the collection of blood from voluntary, regular unpaid blood donors, provide quality donor care, promote and implement appropriate clinical use of blood; and set up systems for oversight and surveillance across the blood-transfusion supply chain.”

On the positive side, Saudi Arabia recorded a rate of 13.8 per 1,000 population, with a healthy spread across all age groups. The country also has one of the highest rates of repeat donors (91 percent) in the region. According to the WHO report, the proportion of repeat, voluntary, non-remunerated blood donation in the Kingdom is 65.3 percent, which “will keep the prevalence of transfusion-transmissible infections among blood donors at much lower levels than in the general population.”

In recent years, Saudi health officials have introduced a number of measures to ensure adequate stocks in blood banks, including those run by the Ministry of Health and dedicated centers. These include a large facility at King Fahad Medical City (KFMC) and the country’s Central Blood Bank.

In the Kingdom, to be eligible for blood donation, donors must be aged over 17, weigh more than 50 kg, and have passed a brief medical examination. The health ministry recently launched Wateen, an app designed to ease blood-donation procedures and help ensure facilities across the Kingdom have adequate quantities of blood by 2020.

KFMC officials say that every day at least 2,000 units of blood components are needed to sustain a minimum supply for patients at the facility and other governmental and non-governmental hospitals in Riyadh. Donated blood components are essential for the management of cases involving cancer, sickle-cell disease, organ transplant, surgery, childbirth and trauma, to name just a few.

The situation is not very different in the other GCC countries, which also need more donors.

In the UAE, Dubai Blood Donation Center, which accounts for roughly half of the total blood collected in the emirates, frequently highlights the urgent need for donors. In 2018 alone, it ran 635 blood-donation campaigns, which resulted in 63,735 donors and a collection of 50,456 blood units.

While all blood types are needed, negative blood types are in greater demand due to their rarity. “There is a continuous demand for all blood types as blood lasts for only 42 days. So donors are always needed to come forward to replenish these stocks,” Dr. Mai Raouf, director of Dubai Blood Donation Center, said.

“People can donate blood every eight weeks, with each donation potentially saving up to three lives,” she told Arab News. 

Given that transfusion of blood and blood products save millions of lives every year, and the fact that “regular donors are the safest group of donors,” the importance of encouraging people to return to donate blood, rather than be one-time donors, can hardly be overemphasized, experts say.

“Without a system based on voluntary, unpaid blood donation, particularly regular voluntary donation, no country can provide sufficient blood for all patients who require transfusion,” Al-Mandhari said.

“WHO is calling on all countries in the region to celebrate and thank individuals who donate blood — and to encourage those who have not yet donated blood to start donating,” he said.