The Council of Ministers on Friday passed a sub-decree imposing fines for smoking in offices and other public spaces in a bid to reduce the use of tobacco products and bolster public health.
The new regulation imposes a fine of 20,000 riel (about $5) for those caught smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars and other public areas, and 50,000 riel (about $12.50) for owners of restaurants or other establishments who do not designate non-smoking areas, according to a statement released by the Council of Ministers on Friday.
However, council spokesman Phay Siphan explained that the rules did not amount to a blanket ban on tobacco, but rather an effort to limit its use to prescribed areas, particularly within restaurants and bars. He said the Ministry of Health would work with the owners of eating and drinking establishments to determine where smoking would be allowed.
“I think the Ministry of Health is going to issue a license for the restaurants, the places we consider public use, transportation, or the airport, stuff like that. What we discussed this morning was that restaurants should have two areas: one is a non-smoking area and one is a smoking area,” he explained.
“The Ministry of Health has the power to assign which place shall be non-smoking, so that the businessmen have to deal with the Ministry of Health…. Most important is that the owner of the restaurant or the public place has to assign… a non-smoking area. If someone abuses that non-smoking area sign, they have to be fined.
He said the new rules would be enforced soon and that “No Smoking” signs would be erected in many of the capital’s public parks and gardens, but that he could not specify a date.
Keo Vuth, 30, was smoking outside at a restaurant in Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kandal I commune on Friday. He said that although he enjoyed having a cigarette from time to time, he would be happy to take his habit home in the future.
“I think it is a good thing that the government has decided on that, because we have to think about people who don’t like smoking,” he said.
The country’s most famous smoker, Prime Minister Hun Sen, tried and failed to quit multiple times before finally succeeding in 2014. In a speech at the time, he said he initially refused to sign the sub-decree banning smoking in public because he liked to light up during Council of Ministers meetings.
“If I have to leave the meeting room to smoke a cigarette, would there be someone there to listen to me?” he asked.
However, Mr. Siphan—a non-smoker—said that Mr. Hun Sen’s latest successful bid to quit had made the Council of Ministers a smoke-free zone, to his relief.
“Nobody smokes at all,” he said. “Before, it was just the prime minister. Nobody dares to do that—they have to get out and smoke. Since he quit, two or three years already, we are comfortable to breathe easy in the cabinet meeting.”
(Additional reporting by Julia Wallace)