Singapore bans outdoor smoking
Singapore - Richard Tan usually lingers at one of the tables at the Newton Food Centre to puff a cigarette after a bowl of his favourite prawn noodles.
But as of this month, the 65-year-old retiree must leave the premises and light up under the tree-lined surroundings after Singapore banned smoking in outdoor eateries, coffee shops, canteens and cafes.
"Smoking after a meal is like having dessert," Tan told AFP, inhaling deeply on a Marlboro.
"It makes me feel relaxed."
But each puff that Tan and other smokers exhale could be also harmful to the health of non-smokers, medical experts say, sparking efforts worldwide to outlaw smoking in public places.
Singapore, renowned for its squeaky-clean image and strict laws against littering, has already banned smoking in air-conditioned buildings including restaurants and workplaces.
It has raised the tax on cigarettes and packets bear shocking photos of the harmful effects of smoking.
After extending the no-smoking legislation this month to popular outdoor "hawker centres", air-conditioned karaoke lounges and nightclubs will come next from July 2007. Bar owners will be allowed to set aside smoking rooms.
"The purpose of the smoking ban is to protect non-smokers from the harmful effects of second-hand smoke," said the National Environment Agency.
It said the ban will affect 7 400 outdoor food outlets, which must apply to the agency to designate smoking corners within their premises.
Smoking bans across Asia
Other Asian cities have imposed similar smoking bans in public places but have faced problems enforcing them.
A visit to any of the food halls in Jakarta shopping malls shows that an anti-smoking law has yet to be strictly enforced.
In Malaysia, where smoking is banned in schools, hospitals, government buildings and public waiting areas, "the anti-smoking legislation is weak," said K Koris, deputy secretary-general of the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control.
"Not only that, enforcement is lax because there seems to be a lack of political will from the government," Koris said.
Japan in 2003 passed a law requiring public facilities to take action against second-hand smoking, but the country remains one of the industrialised world's biggest holdouts for puffing in the open.
Crowded areas of Tokyo have banned smokers from puffing as they walk, but people are still free to smoke while standing in one place and many flout the rules against smoking on the go.
Singapore's National Environment Agency said its officers will be carrying out routine checks to monitor public compliance, but also reminded food stall owners that they are obliged under the law to enforce the ban.
"The ban is good for non-smokers like us. It feels great to enjoy your food without any pollution," a local businessman said on Saturday as he sampled a fume-free lunch with his wife and two children at the Newton Food Centre.