A tobacco control bill proposed by the government to ban smoking in public places and set restrictions on its use was sent to committee for further review today.
All 55 MPs who participated voted in favour of sending the bill to the social affairs committee.
Presenting the bill at a previous sitting, Health Minister Aminath Jameel said the dangers and health risks of tobacco were well established and the habit led to extreme suffering.
â€œWhen I looked at the statistics of our country, I see cancer, one of the most painful of diseases. In 2004, 40 people passed away. In 2008, the number of people who died from different types of cancer increased to 79,â€ she said.
The number of people who died of heart diseases increased from 192 people in 2004 to 403 in 2008, she added.
The bill states its purpose is to keep children away from tobacco use, provide information to smokers to make responsible decisions and stop advertisement and promotion of cigarettes.
The second clause of the bill states that everyone has the right to protection from passive smoking.
If passed, smoking will be banned in workplaces, public places such as parks, cinemas and conference halls, public transport, teashops, restaurants, cafes, education institutes and hospitals.
Further, selling cigarettes to minors will be an offence and cigarettes will only be sold in packs.
It also places restrictions on the advertisement and promotion of cigarettes.
A one-year period following ratification will be given to draft regulations and enforce the laws.
The legislation also calls for the formation of a national council for tobacco control to be chaired by the health minister.
In 2004, Maldives acceded to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires certain regulations to be enforced.
During the debate that spanned two sittings, although most MPs supported the legislation, some MPs said the provisions were â€œtoo harshâ€ and should not be implemented abruptly.
Several MPs said the bill read like it was intended to ban tobacco rather than control its use.
Ihavandhoo MP Ahmed Abdullah of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Funadhoo MP Abdul Raheem Abdullah of the opposition Peopleâ€™s Alliance argued that specifying fines to range between Rf500 (US$39) and Rf100,000 (US$7,800) was not sensible.
Some opposition MPs, such as Hanimadhoo MP Mohamed Mujthaz and Mulaku MP Abdullah Yamin, criticised the bill for being poorly researched and proposed just for the sake of it.
Kulhudhufushi South MP Mohamed Nasheed, an independent, noted that one-third of all deaths in the Maldives were due to illnesses caused by smoking.
If current trends continue, he added, the WHO estimated the number would rise to two-thirds by 2030.
Several MPs said cigarette-smoking was a gateway to drug use, noting the price of cigarettes in the Maldives was the lowest in the region.
Hithadhoo North MP Mohamed Aslam proposed doubling import duties for cigarettes.
Addressing MPsâ€™ concerns, the health minister said editorial issues in the bill could be resolved at committee stage.
Many countries in the world enforce similar laws such as those proposed in the bill, she said, adding that it would be difficult to prevent children from taking up smoking.