GRTU says smoking ban - 1/10/2004

The Chamber for Small and Medium Enterprises, GRTU yesterday called on the government to suspend the smoking regulations and told owners of establishments to implement the regulations by simply informing their patrons about the smoking ban.

"This law is not enforceable," GRTU director general Vince Farrugia told owners of entertainment establishments during a meeting yesterday.

Mr Farrugia said if the law were not suspended and its members started being taken to court for breaching it, then it would call another meeting but added that the GRTU hoped the government was not "so insane" as to have a fight with bar owners.

He warned the government that if it continued to burden entertainment establishments, unemployment would continue to rise.

Contacted by The Times after the meeting, Mr Farrugia said a survey carried out by the GRTU last week showed that not one establishment owner knew what to do.

The smoking regulations will come into force for entertainment establishments measuring over 60 square metres on Tuesday. Patrons will only be able to smoke in designated rooms.

Mr Farrugia told the establishment owners at the meeting that the GRTU would give them stickers to be displayed at the entrance notifying patrons it was illegal to smoke in public places and another stating that the establishment was a public place.

If a person smoked inside the establishment, the owner should draw his attention to the rules. He told the owners that if they were able to convince patrons to stop smoking it would be a good thing but if they did not receive any complaints from other patrons then they could turn a blind eye.

Mr Farrugia said those who could arrange to have an outside smoking area could do so but he reminded owners that permits were required to do so.

He said that if he owned an entertainment establishment he would not spend money to comply with the regulations but would display the stickers and wait to see what happened next.

During the two-hour meeting, Mr Farrugia said that introducing the smoking regulations across the board, in all public places, had been exaggerated. Moreover, it was "insane" to introduce specifications that were impossible for the establishment owners to comply with. Mr Farrugia asked how the government could "invent" such regulations without taking into consideration how many people would be negatively affected by them.

Specifications for smoking rooms in entertainment establishments were put together by a technical committee within the Malta Standards Authority.

Mr Farrugia said beer sales in Ireland, which had introduced strict smoking regulations, had declined, which indicated that there had been a chain reaction.

Philip Fenech, the GRTU's hospitality and leisure representative, said he was informed that in Ireland people had initially gone along with the smoking regulations but after some months the turnover had started to fall and about 2,000 jobs had been lost.

He said establishment owners in both Ireland and Norway were asking for the regulations to be waived.

Smoking regulations were problematic in the entertainment industry because it was based on food, music, alcohol and smoking. He said people were even going to these establishments during their work break just to smoke, since they could not do so inside offices. He added that the turnover of many of these establishments had risen slightly as a result. However, he said, this practice would now have to stop.

He said one person had told him he did not smoke at work, was not allowed to smoke at home and now he would not even be able to go to a club to smoke a cigarette, so he might as well quit smoking.

Mr Fenech said that although the majority of people said they wanted a smoking ban, between 65 - 80 per cent of those who frequented entertainment establishments were smokers.

GRTU legal consultant Andrew Borg Cardona explained the new regulations to those present. He also referred to a study in the renowned British Medical Journal which, he said, reported that there was no scientific link between passive smoking and disease.

Dr Borg Cardona said that despite the law coming into force in just a few days, it was not enforceable.

Engineer Oliver Aquilina explained the technical implications of the law. He said that keeping a smoking room according to the air-quality specifications issued would cost the owner 1c per hour for every person inside the room.

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