This weekend was supposed to be the last time for smokers in Thailand to puff in public, but Bangkok restaurant and bar owners said the ban -- which many of them didn't know about -- would not work.
"I haven't heard anything about a new smoking ban. When will it take effect?" Jidapa Kongchul asked as she handed an ashtray to a client.
AdvertisementJidapa works as a cashier at French Kiss, a bar lit by the neon lights of Bangkok's infamous Patpong red light district.
She estimated that most of their customers smoke while they drink, and the bar was littered with well-worn ashtrays.
"It will be difficult to tell the customers not to smoke, since most of them smoke," she shrugged.
Starting Monday, smoking in bars, restaurants and even open-air markets can be punished with a 2,000 baht (60 dollar) fine. Owners of venues that allow smoking could face a 20,000 baht fine.
Thailand, where about 17 percent of the nation's 65 million people are smokers who consume 110 million cigarettes daily, already bans smoking at public places such as government buildings, train stations and hospitals.
Bans in Europe and North America have proven effective at deterring smoking, and Thailand's health ministry said the prohibition was meant to protect the health of the more than 600,000 people who visit bars and nightclubs every day.
But business owners disagreed with the move.
"From a business perspective, it is not a good idea," said John Hancock, owner of Coffee Society, a cafe located amid Bangkok's bustling nightlife.
As a non-smoker, Hancock said he welcomed the new regulations, but questioned how well they could be implemented.
Many bar and restaurant owners have yet to be informed of the ban, which was approved last month with little debate by Thailand's recently-departed military regime.
"I found out myself from the media," said Pavornwan Koonmongkon, president of the 70,000-member Thai Restaurant Association, adding that her group has not been contacted by authorities about the ban.
"Several (bar and restaurant) owners fear that the ban will ruin their business," she said.
Pavornwan said owners fear enforcing the ban will drive away customers, while many venues in the crowded city don't have enough space to set up separate smoking areas.
"Business operators need clear guidelines and good advice from the authorities to help them handle these difficulties properly," she said.
The health ministry said bar and restaurant owners can relax, at least for now, because authorities won't hand out fines until June.
"Although the ban takes effect on February 11, we will focus more on educating people and issuing warnings rather than fining wrongdoers, until May 31," said Seri Hongyok, deputy director general of the Disease Control Office.
The ministry is prepared to advise businesses on how to comply with the new rules, and will distribute copies of the regulations by the end of February, Seri said.
"If there is any violation of the law, our authorities will consider them on a case-by-case basis to ensure fair treatment to business owners who do not support the violation," he said.
Prakit Vathesatogkit, head of the Action on Smoking and Health Foundation, said the ban would embolden non-smokers to complain more vocally about cigarettes in public spaces.
"Laws like the smoking ban are just to reflect the government's position and to help businesses that might need legal measures to make people stop smoking in their premises," Prakit said.
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