Bars, restaurants and hotels around the country have been asked by the Ministry of Tourism to ban smoking in their establishments, or at least designate non-smoking areas within their premises.
A directive issued by the Ministry of Tourism, dated June 2 and signed by Minister Thong Khon, is geared specifically to establishments that cater to tourists but has been issued to popular local spots such as beer gardens as well.
According to the document, the suggested smoking ban is not only an effort to promote healthier living but to protect the environment and reduce poverty as well.
Sam Chanren, deputy director of Phnom Penh’s department of tourism, said that tourists will feel safer coming to Cambodia with the smoking ban.
“Smoking cigarettes, on the surface, looks like a small matter, but in fact, it is a big matter,” he said. “Entertainment clubs in some countries had fires caused by smoking, like in Spain. Then tourism numbers drop.”
Although not enforceable by law, Mr Chanren believes that the directive will help improve tourism countrywide.
“The directive will not punish anyone who breaks it, but it is the first step. In the next step, the inner-ministries would discuss about a punishment,” he said.
The directive, forwarded to NGOs, businesses and other government bodies, also calls for a smoking ban in government offices and the general workplace.
If banning smoking is too difficult, the “Directive on No Smoking at Workplaces and Tourism Business Establishments” also suggests that businesses designate smoking and non-smoking areas “if it is a customer’s need.”
Ho Vandy, co-chair of the state-private sector Tourism Working Group, said that he thought the directive was a positive step forward for the tourism sector, having heard smoking complaints in the past.
“I do appreciate it. Around the world, they have a smoking room,” he said. “It is like the airports. I have heard people say ‘Oh, when I go to the airport and [wait outside the arrivals lounge to welcome people]…I have to breath in smoke.’ This is a bad thing.”
Benjamin Legrand, manager of the popular riverside restaurant the FCC, said he had not heard of the directive. He added that though smoking is allowed in his restaurant, he rarely gets a complaint from non-smokers.
“I will get a complaint maybe once every 2,500 customers,” he said. “It is a little different here since it is open-air, so I would think about it if it were not.”
Next month, a sub-decree banning tobacco advertisements will come into force, outlawing tobacco products from being placed on billboards, and in print-media advertisements.