Money up in smoke

Zuraida Kamaruddin

Perhaps the wrong minister was asked to resign.

While many in the education field are lamenting the loss of Maszlee Malik after he was asked by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to step down, I can’t help but feel other more ‘qualified’ ministers should have been given the boot.

The Minister of Everything but his own backyard (Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman) is one, and the flying car minister (Datuk Seri Mohd Redzuan Md Yusof) is the other.

But the one who takes the cake is Local Government and Housing Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin who yesterday said she “empathises with smokers” in the country as “they have rights too”.

Sorry, what? How about the feelings, rights and noses of non-smokers?

This certainly has to be a record of sorts not just in Malaysia but also the world as it seems a minister is ‘endorsing’ something bad for health.

This is on top of Zuraida announcing her ministry has allocated RM1 million for local councils to set up designated smoking areas in public areas such as food courts and parks.

While I’m all for designated smoking areas, shouldn’t the business owners pool their resources to build the damn cancer traps instead of using government money?

But, why stop at ‘endorsing’ smoking? Maybe Zuraida can announce a plan to have ‘special vending machines for sugary drinks minus sugar tax’. After all, diabetics have the right to consume as much sugar as they want to, and they will only be killing themselves, unlike smokers.

For the record, the American Heart Association (AHA) says non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke are at a 25 to 30 per cent greater risk of heart disease. AHA highlights smoke exposure can make pre-existing cases of high blood pressure worse as adults may develop asthma and have frequent respiratory illnesses.

All the more reason to ensure all public spaces are smoke-free.

Zuraida’s action seems to contradict efforts to make Malaysia smoke-free by 2045. Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye had two years ago said the “government was complying with what the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advocated and that it was Malaysia’s goal to be a smoke-free nation by 2045.”

Also, shouldn’t the housing ministry be looking at solving the shortage of affordable housing in the country instead of letting RM1 million go up in smoke?

Last May, PropertyGuru conducted a survey and 86 per cent of the respondents said properties are expensive and overpriced while 76 per cent said prices have increased too quickly.

That is a bigger concern than smokers’ rights, although Zuraida told Bernama recently that she was confident the government’s promise of one million affordable homes would be fulfilled in the next 10 years.

In November 2018 ahead of the no-smoking rule at all restaurants and eateries, including open-air hawker centres and street stalls which came into effect on Jan 1, 2019, this website, tongue firmly in cheek, suggested a business plan of having an all-smokers cafe.

Although meant as satire, that piece makes more sense than a government body giving away RM1 million to appease smokers.

Well here’s another business plan as suggested by a friend.

Instead of an all-smokers cafe, how about renting shop lots next to eateries and allowing those businesses to deliver the food and drinks to the “smoking cafe”. There will be no headache of getting cooks, waiters and not much washing up. And best of all, no government money involved since it is a business.

Unless of course, our “honourable” housing minister wants to join hands with the Entrepreneur Development Ministry and come up with another cockamamie idea.

Oh, by the way, Zuraida is MP for Ampang a place my friend and I joke is “ulu”.

Why? Well, a couple of times we visited friends who stay there we found the roads messed up, haphazard highway projects, and development left, right and centre.

Maybe instead of looking into smokers’ rights, she should take care of her constituents’ struggles.