Eateries fear customers will vanish in a puff of smoke

John Bunyan

Most restaurant operators believed they would lose their smoking customers, as restaurants were among the few places people could still puff away at. — Picture by Farhan Najib

IPOH, Oct 17 — Several restaurant owners and hawkers worry that a smoking ban at open-air eateries will turn away patrons who light up, their primary customer base.

Ipoh Rumpun restaurant owner Muhammad Noor Ghazali said that the smoking ban — which will be enforced at all air-conditioned and non-air-conditioned restaurants, coffee shops, and open-air hawker centres and street stalls nationwide from January 1 — would affect his business as about 70 per cent of his customers are smokers.

“I’m afraid my regular customers who are mostly smokers will not be coming to the shop as they can’t smoke in the eateries anymore,” he told Malay Mail.

Malay Mail interviewed seven restaurant operators and hawkers in Ipoh, Perak, to find out how their business will be affected by the smoking ban.

Most — including a major mamak chain — believed they would lose their smoking customers, as restaurants were among the few places people could still puff away at.

A drop in smoking customers may not necessarily be made up by additional non-smoking customers either, as a few non-smokers told Malay Mail that they currently still patronised restaurants despite the presence of smokers.

Restoran Ipoh Raya DR owner Zainal Abidin Mirrah Maidin echoed Muhammad Noor, pointing out that most of his customers had a habit of smoking after eating.

“Some customers come to my shop just to smoke as they can’t smoke in their office. Of course when they sit at the shop, they will order some drinks or food, which is an income to us.

“But if they stop coming to our shop, then we will lose the income,” he said.

Kak Ina Ayam Goreng hawker stall owner Aminah Zaidi said that the smoking ban at open-air outlets should be reconsidered as only smokers will spend time at food stalls.

“Most of the time, people who don’t smoke will not sit at the road side and eat. They prefer to pack the food and eat at home. Only those who smoke will spend time in the stalls,” she said.

However, Mami Ros restaurant owner Rosmah Hussin Shah said the smoking ban would attract more non-smokers to her shop.

“I had customers who complained that they can’t stand the cigarette smoke, but now with the smoking ban, non-smokers can eat at the shop comfortably,” she said.

Smokers will tapau and eat at home

Malay Mail also interviewed six smokers and four non-smokers.

All six smokers said they would prefer eating at home or at a private place if they could not smoke at restaurants.

Non-smokers told Malay Mail they currently still ate out, tolerating the presence of smokers. Only one said she avoided eating at open-air outlets because of smokers, preferring to dine at air-conditioned restaurants.

Sarawana Raj, 29, said that he would prefer eating at home rather than spend time at restaurants following the smoking ban.

“If smoking is banned at the restaurants, then I would no longer eat there. I would rather buy the food and eat at home and smoke after that,” he said.

Muhamad Izham Azman, a 24-year-old civil servant, also said that he would prefer to pack the food and go somewhere private to smoke and eat.

“One of the reasons why we go to restaurants is because we can smoke there. We can’t smoke at our working place or house. Restaurants used to be a common place for smokers to hang around.

“But if we can’t smoke there, then there is no point sitting at the shop. Probably we will go somewhere else to smoke or maybe smoke in the car,” he said.

Non-smoker Theong Siew Yin, 36, said that even before the smoking ban was announced, she still ate at open-air eateries.

“Most of the restaurants near my office allow its customers to smoke and due to the limited lunch hour, I will eat at the restaurant near my office even though I need to tolerate the cigarette smoke.

“But with the new ban on smoking, we can peacefully eat at the open restaurants without the cigarette smoke or smell,” she said.

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