The Government has been attacked by consumer groups and doctors for reversing a decision to ban smoking in air-conditioned restaurants and most nightspots. Health Minister Chua Jui Meng reported the policy change last week at the same time as he announced that Malaysians under the age of 18 would be banned from smoking, chewing tobacco or possessing cigarettes. After speaking about the dangers of nicotine dependence, he said the Cabinet had approved a Health Ministry proposal allowing smoking in pubs, discotheques, nightclubs and karaoke lounges and permitting 30 per cent of air-conditioned eating places to be reserved for smokers. A ban on smoking in all these outlets was announced in November. Mr Chua said the smoking ban would continue in places such as banks, shopping complexes, government premises, sports complexes and educational institutions. Jacob George, legal adviser of the Malaysian Consumers' Arbitration and Redress Centre, said he deeply regretted the 'about-turn after months of pro-active and pro-health statements'. He said the decision showed the interests of the tobacco lobby and Malaysia's 1.7 million smokers overrode the rights and interests of the other 18 million Malaysians. 'Malaysian consumers should now exercise their right to health by boycotting all business and food premises and service outlets that encourage smoking,' he said. Official efforts to discourage smoking frequently seem to conflict with continuing government support for the domestic tobacco industry. Minister of Information Mohamad Rahmat said recently the Government had to consider several factors before banning tobacco advertising. As well as providing income for tobacco farmers, cigarette companies contributed almost 40 per cent of the revenue of television companies through advertisements.