Health Minister determined to go ahead with anti-smoking legislation - 1/2/2004

Daniela Xuereb
Malta Independent on Sunday

Despite the ongoing concerns of establishment owners, associations and the public over the introduction of legislation which bans smoking in public places from April, Health Minister Louis Deguara is determined to go ahead with his plans.

Association members, including those of the General Retailers’ and Traders Union, and the Malta Hotels and Restaurant Association are insisting there should be an educational campaign prior to the law enforcement.

“Years ago the government had embarked on an ongoing anti-smoking campaign directed at different age groups which I am sure everyone is aware of. This campaign also underlined the dangers of passive smoking,” Dr Deguara told The Malta Independent on Sunday. “In spite of our efforts to make individuals responsible and adopt a healthy lifestyle, we note that the incidence of young smokers, especially females, is on the increase. We also believe that more direct measures are needed to safeguard the health of non-smokers.”

“When a non-smoking ban was first introduced in cinemas and on public buses,” Dr Deguara said, “we had the same reaction. Nowadays everybody has accepted these measures without waiting for a cultural change.”

Smoking in public places will be banned as from 5 April this year when the 2003 Smoking in Public Places Regulations (part of the Tobacco Act) comes into force.

The Health Promotion Department recently announced that the amendments to the law regarding the Tobacco Act (Chap 315) lists a number of areas were smoking will be prohibited in closed places. According to Article 3 (1) of the legislation, smoking will be banned in:

• Establishments providing a services to the public, whether it is paid for or free of charge including the sale of goods.

• Hospitals and any medical premises.

• Residences of the elderly.

• Schools and other premises where children are received.

• Buildings where higher education and vocational training are given.

• Places used to provide entertainment such as radio and television studios, exhibition areas, sports establishments, ports and airports.

The regulations also describe the employer’s responsibility – he/she has to make sure that people do not smoke in the workplace, or in any public area of the premises. The employer will also be responsible to ensure that non-smoking employees are not required to enter smoking areas to carry out their duties. No smoking signs must be put up in the workplace.

The Health Promotion Department has been working hard for many years to address the problem of smoking where it is still allowed in a number of closed areas, including offices, restaurants and other places.

The Health Promotion Department also participated in the formulation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) organised by WHO. FCTC is an international legal instrument which will circumscribe the global spread of tobacco and tobacco products.

Dr Mario Spiteri, director of the Health Promotion Department, said the department he runs had been running campaigns on the dangers of smoking, helping people to kick the smoking habit on an on-going basis and tackling various issues of smoking. These range from campaigns targeting young children urging them not to start, the bi-annual International Quit & Win Campaigns, Smoking in Pregnancy and Smoking Policies in Workplaces. “The department has made extensive use of the media, namely adverts on buses, billboards, newspapers and magazines as well as television and radio. We have shredded the local tobacco industry’s arguments through a long and active debate in the media,” said Dr Spiteri.

“Smoking cessation classes are run on a regular basis (gratis) from major health centres after office hours as well as in various workplaces. Free nicotine replacement therapy has been made possible through sponsorship agents for Nicorette patches and free dispensation of Zyban tablets on presentation of medical prescription.”

During the last July Malta International Trade Fair the department offered a service where smokers (active and passive) could have their carbon monoxide content of their lungs measured. Some 30,000 people visited this stand where they also benefited from health advice on nutritional matters as well.

Dr Spiteri said there will be 10,000 leaflets explaining how the new legislation will seek to protect the health of non-smokers. “In terms of costs, nearly a third of all out budget is spent on tobacco control. A huge option poll run by Xarabank in 1999 showed overwhelming support for the ban on public smoking. More than 9,800 phoned in favour of strict control as opposed to about 2,100 against,” said Dr Spiteri. “In 1996 we launched the No To Smoking Calendar which parodied tobacco advertisements. WHO was highly appreciative of our efforts and our media campaign on PBS was awarded a medal of excellence.”

Meanwhile, Winston J. Zahra, president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurant Association, said the MHRA has discussed the anti-smoking legislation at length. “We have also issued a questionnaire to all our members to get their direct feedback and be able to speak from a position following the consultation process. We have also researched what our European counterparts’ position is on the issue,” said Mr Zahra. “In general, the MHRA is in agreement due to the health issues associated with smoking. However we feel that the law is being passed too extensively and in a premature manner. There needs to be a solid education campaign and a well thought out process of introducing such an act. Ultimately we are talking about changing a whole culture and if it is not done properly the whole thing will backfire.”

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