Public smoking raid? This could turn nasty

November 18th, 2008 § 0

Smokers beware. There could be some scary stuff going your way if you forget about this:

Public is free to conduct anti-smoking raids

The 2008 No Smoking Area campaign to begin on Wednesday (19 Nov) will be conducted jointly by staff members of a number of Jakarta city agencies. However, this will only be so during the roll out, as oversight for this municipality regulation will be depended on the public.

“We are not going to put officers specifically for this job every day in every public place in Jakarta. For this roll out campaign, yes, but afterward it will all be up to the public to watch these places,” said the Head of the Jakarta Environmental Management Agency, Budirama Natakusumah, during a press conference at the agency’s office in Jakarta on Monday (17 Nov).

Mr. Natakusumah is basically admitting his hands are tied. Understandably. He’s been under the pressure of tobacco control groups, now armed with Bloomberg money, who have been clamoring for the government to enforce the anti-smoking regulation proposed by former governor Sutiyoso in 2005. But there you go, the enforcing agency admits it is not going to commit itself to do the job.

The problem is, the former governor is someone with grand, noble ambitions but isn’t really one that delivers much. If you don’t believe me, look at how the Busway is doing right now. He said the bus will arrive at each stop in every 1.5-5 minutes, but now you would be lucky to get on an empty one before waiting for 15 minutes, particularly on one of the stops outside the Blok M – Kota route.

And how about the monorail project? Let’s talk about that one. Like the website, the project is eternally ‘under construction,’ but unlike the website, the abandoned pillars that were supposed to hold the tracks are making the obnoxious Jakarta traffic worse.

The public smoking ban is not so much different from the monorail and the busway, in that they were all conceived immaculately (or illegitimately) because no father was willing to own them. The only difference now is that the anti-smoking gangs, flush withBloomberg’s money (and even more so now with contribution from Bill Gates), are stepping up to own this one.

Now I’m not arguing that public places shouldn’t be rid of the toxic tobacco smoke. Many smokers here are pugnacious and seem to lack the incentive to put out their cigarette when they stroll about public places. However, I have several objections about this anti-smoking campaign.

First of all, the regulation actually blurs the line between public places and private places. It defines “public places” as:

Any facility established by the government, private entities or individuals that is used by members of the public, including places owned by the regional government, central government, office buildings, public service facilities such as terminals and busway terminals, airports, train stations, malls, shopping centers, department stores, hotels, restaurantsand so forth.

The underlined items above are clearly private properties. If anyone is wondering whether there is such thing as respect for private property in this country, this regulation probably says it all. Now, you could argue that the private properties above forego their privacy by inviting members of the public to enter their premises. But as business owners competing with each other, I’d argue that they are best placed to make the most optimal decision in terms of how much smoking they should allow within their premises. The proof of this is that there had been never been any regulation to require businesses to set up smoking and non-smoking areas prior to 1999 (PP 81/1999), but places like restaurants, cafes, malls and even offices had actually set up smoking restrictions on their own.

My other objection to the campaign is that by having these activists conduct anti-smoking raids, the government is inviting the most rabidly anti-smoking elements of the fight against tobacco in a vigilante crusade against smokers. My view, it wouldn’t be so much different from calling on the FPI to enforce the porn law.

Now, does that scare you? I tell you it should.

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