Three arrested for smoking in public during fasting hours

Three men were arrested yesterday (June 29) in the capital Malé for smoking in public during fasting hours on the first day of Ramadan, police have revealed.

While a 23-year-old man was caught smoking near the Raanbaa restaurant around 10:20am, a second 23-year-old was caught smoking near the Redwave Plaza around 11:50am.

The third suspect, aged 34, was caught smoking inside the public toilets near the fish market around 5:45pm.

Police noted that all three men had criminal records for drug abuse, assault, and robbery.

In January, the Criminal Court fined a man MVR150 for drinking a Coca-cola in public during fasting hours in the month of Ramadan in 2011.


Comment: One of Maldives’ biggest killers entirely preventable

It is indeed sad that one of the biggest killers of people in Maldives is an addiction that is entirely preventable, but requires a good will to act from everyone.

In 2010, the Government of Maldives, in a commendable move, passed a Tobacco Control Law and in January 2013 introduced its first regulation to reduce the amount of public real estate on which smokers can indulge in their harmful habit – it banned smoking cigarettes inside all government buildings, private restaurants, cafes and other public places.

It further bans smoking tobacco at rehabilitation centres, children’s parks and spaces often visited by children, aboard transport vehicles and at any area where residents have to wait in a line to receive services. Individual violators can be fined MRF500 and proprietors MRF1000 for not enforcing the law on their premises.

Of course, with any law, enforcement is key and we know that the government is aware of the need to encourage law enforcement to not only uphold the law but to become better educated on the details. WHO has suggested incentivising law enforcement so that they will take a more active role in upholding this crucial piece of legislation. There is work to be done to gazette certain provisions, and provide support for more training and awareness-raising activities.

The statistics themselves are alarming enough:

  • According to the 2009 Maldives Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 42 percent of people in the between the ages of 20-24 are smokers in the country, one of the highest in the region.
  • Although importation figures are showing some decline, in 2011 about 454 million cigarette sticks were imported. This represents a retail value of about MVR 910 million.
  • Globally – tobacco kills nearly 5.4 million people each year; and by 2030 it will kill more than 8 million people each year.
  • If no serious action is taken, up to 1 billion people could die from tobacco use in the 21st century.

There is well-established evidence: tobacco kills and its use carries many negative effects on health and quality of life.

However, despite efforts globally by governments, NGOs and individuals to curb tobacco smoking, it is no secret that the opposition backing the tobacco industry is well-organised and well-funded. Some of the firms will stop at nothing to silence the anti-tobacco lobby. Even for small nations such as Maldives, introducing anti-tobacco legislation and measures can face fierce resistance from those who promote their commercial interests.

The theme of World No Tobacco Day 2013 is “Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.” The WHO position is clear: all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship should be banned – full stop. We believe that banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use. In fact, this is a requirement under Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC), the international treaty that was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic.

Why is this measure so important? Nearly three in four children between the ages of 13 and 15 are exposed to pro-cigarette ads on billboards and to pro-tobacco messages at sports and other events.

The link between such messages and the uptake of the habit are indisputable. Our figures show that a comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7 percent, with some countries experiencing a decline in consumption of up to 16 percent.

I commend the Government of Maldives for introducing a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The Tobacco Control Law (Law15/2010), with the first regulation introduced in January 2013 and more underway, provides a base for reinforcing such a ban.

I know that the Government of Maldives is taking this matter very seriously and continues to place an importance on introducing a full set of regulations, coordination of efforts in multiple sectors and educating small traders and communities on the provisions of the law.

The evidence is clear: such bans work and help us to protect our youth from this deadly addiction.
The time to act is now.

Dr Magtymova is the World Health Organisation (WHO) Representative to the Republic of Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Maldives to implement smoking ban from New Year’s Day

Individuals caught smoking in ‘tobacco-free zones’ such as cafes and public places risk a MVR 500 (US$32) fine under new regulations to be implemented from tomorrow (January 1, 2013).

The ‘Regulation of Determining Tobacco Free-Zones’ (Dhivehi) prohibits smoking inside cafes, tea shops, restaurants, public places where people usually gather in numbers, parks and all government buildings.

Public Health Programme Coordinator at the Centre for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) Dr Fathmath Nazla Rafeeq told Minivan News today that notices were expected to be put up around Male’ to inform the public of tobacco-free zones in the city.

Dr Rafeeq added that designated “social areas” including the artificial beach area in Male’, are also set to become no-smoking areas.

“Male’ City Council (MCC) has made a list of these [public] areas where smoking is forbidden and we are expecting the council to announce these areas. It is expected that island councils are to do the same outside of Male’.  If a member of the public sees someone smoking in a tobacco-free zone, there will be a contact number on the no-smoking notices that they can notify the police with,” Rafeeq said.

The CCHDC estimates that roughly 44 percent of the total population of the Maldives uses tobacco – mainly through smoking.  Despite the high number of smokers in the country, Dr Rafeeq claimed that the majority of comments received by the CCHDC from the public were in favour of the regulation.

“We understand there will be people who do not like the new rules and there has been some concern raised over its implementation, but most of the people we have spoken to, which includes many cafe owners, have told us they are very positive about the regulation,” she added.  “Now might be a good time for people to make ‘quitting smoking’ a new year’s resolution.”

According to the 2009 Maldives Demography and Health Survey (MDHS), 42 percent of people in the between the ages of 20-24 are smokers in the country.  The same figures indicate that 20 percent of Maldivians aged 15-19 years also smoke.

In order to provide smokers with advice on how to quite smoking, Dr Rafeeq added that the CCHDC will be printing and distributing booklets on the subject in the new year.

“Smoking regulations have successfully been implemented in countries all over the world. If it can work in countries like India, where there is a large and diverse population, it can definitely work here,” she added.

Effect on business

Under the new regulation, cafes and restaurants will be able to provide designated smoking areas within their premises upon application of a licence from the Ministry of Health.

Businesses wishing to apply for the licence will have to pay MVR 1000 (US$64) for the privilege. The type of smoking area permitted will depend on the establishment, according to the CCHDC.

“The regulation states that establishments defined as an ‘open space’ can have have a designated open air area for smoking, whereas businesses defined as a ‘closed space’ will need to designate a separate smoking room,” Dr Rafeeq said.  “According to the regulation, a closed area is defined as a space connected by at least two walls and a roof. Unfortunately this might mean that some “closed space” businesses may require some modifications to their premises that they will have to pay for.”

The regulation further states that if the owner of a premises does not put up a sign board to inform customers that smoking is disallowed, the Ministry of Health has the authority to fine the venue MVR 500 for a first warning.  Additional fines of MVR 5000 (US$3200) would then be charged by the ministry in case of any subsequent failures to display the required signs.

Should the owner of an establishment allow smoking in such places without authority they can be fined MVR 1000 (US$64), according to the regulation.

When asked of the potential negative impact the new regulation could have on independent businesses, Dr Rafeeq said that research had suggested that cafes and restaurants could experience an “initial decline” in business following the implementation of the new rules.

“There has been some concern raised from local cafe and restaurant owners, but we have carried out thorough research on the matter by looking at how similar smoking restrictions have affected businesses in other countries,” she said.  “Our research shows that while businesses may suffer slightly to begin with, eventually businesses will see the benefits regulation brings.”

Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industries (MNCCI) Vice President Ishmael Asif was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Public opinion

Ahead of the implementation of the new regulation, smokers and non-smokers interviewed by Minivan News expressed mixed views on the restrictions.

“Smoking is dangerous not just to yourself, but to everyone around you. I’m glad the government is finally taking the lead to make a place this small safer health-wise,” a non-smoking 31-year-old civil servant explained.

Meanwhile, a 19-year-old male living in Male’, who did not wish to be named, said it was his individual freedom to smoke wherever he liked and that the new regulation will “force” smokers to break the law.

“[The regulation] is a very bad thing. It’s our freedom to smoke anywhere we like, and it’s others freedom to stay away from the smoke if they are getting disturbed,” he added.

“Regulations could be made allowing people to smoke in the public and non-smokers can move away from the smoke.”

While not objecting to allowing smoking at specific premises, a 38 year-old female accountant from Male’ told how she believed larger public areas should become ‘tobacco-free zones’.

“To be honest, I don’t mind people smoking on streets or cafes, but it’s difficult when people smoke in crowds such as at gatherings or music shows of sports events,” she said.


Maldives marks World No Tobacco Day

The Health Ministry has revealed that 44 percent of the Maldivian population use tobacco – an increase from 24 percent in 2004 and the highest percentage in the region.

According to figures published by the Ministry to mark International No Tobacco day, tobacco is responsible for 27 percent of all deaths in the country.

Approximately around 347 million cigarettes are imported into the country annually, the equivalent of 53 tonnes.

Statistics show that overall tobacco use prevalence is high compared to international standards with 57 percent of men and 29 percent of women having used some form of tobacco, with the number of female smokers on the rise.

Based on the import figures, the average Maldivian smoker consumes 2312 cigarettes a year – approximately six a day.

Unlike many countries which already impose strict supply controls and high prices on tobacco products, the Maldives has long enjoyed cheap rates with a pack easily available from shops between Rf18-25 (US$1.16-1.62), subject to brand, while a single cigarette costs one rufiya.

Following rise in import duty in the Maldives, the cheapest brand is available at almost Rf35 (US$2.27) and a single cigarette costs almost two or three rufiya.

By comparison, a pack of cheap cigarettes costs the equivalent of Rf66 in the USA, Rf112 in the UK and Rf158 in Australia.


Smokers react to dramatic rise in price of cigarettes

Ahmed Lizneen was just 14 when he first smoked. What started as an “experiment for fun” has now become a habit – he has struggled to quit over the years, but to no avail.

“It was my friends who gave the cigarette to me first. I had it for fun. Then I also started buying. Not the whole pack, but a few cigarettes at a time as it was cheaper. Slowly it became an addiction. I tried to stop many times, but just could not,” Lizneen explained.

Alarmingly high tobacco consumption

Statistics reveal an alarming proportion of the Maldivian population – especially youth – have succumbed by one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced: the tobacco epidemic.

The Center for Community Health and Disease Control (CCHDC) estimates that the 44 percent of the total population use tobacco, mainly by smoking.

According to the Maldives Demography and Health Survey (MDHS) 2009, 42 percent of people in the age group 20-24 are smokers while 20 percent of 15-19 years age group smoke.

Similar findings in a 2007 Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) showed that nice percent of the surveyed students are either smokers or have smoked in the past – while 48.7 percent students are exposed to second-hand smoke at home and 69.4 percent of students are exposed to it elsewhere.

A worrying trend has been observed with rising numbers of girls becoming smokers.

Statistics show that overall tobacco use prevalence is high compared to international standard with 57 percent of men and 29 percent of women having used some form of tobacco.

Based on customs data, in 2010 alone 346 million cigarettes were imported into the Maldives at a cost of Rf124 million (US$8 million) – a disproportionate figure considering the 350,000 populace. In 2009, Rf110 million was spent to import 348 million cigarettes – mostly included well known brands such as marlborough, camel, and mild seven.

Based on those figures, the average Maldivian smoker consumes 2312 cigarettes a year – six a day.

Leading public health experts have raised their voice on the issue.

Former Director General of the CCHDC Dr Ahmed Jamsheed wrote on his blog in July 201 that the “available statistics on smoking in the Maldives are alarming”.

“The Maldives still seems to be on the rising curve of the tobacco epidemic (we can still change this) and it will take several years to peak and show the full health impact of smoking and tobacco products. There is a lag of many years between the health effects of tobacco and the time people start smoking,” he wrote.

Meanwhile Ahmed Afaal, a public health service manager and tobacco prevalence researcher, says much needs to be done to control the growing “menace”.

“To protect the majority of the smoking Maldivians from death before they reach their potential life expectancy, strong laws are needed to reduce the supply and demand for tobacco,” he wrote on his blog in October 2011. “We are way behind!”

Tobbaco products price increased

In a bid to control the rising demand curve, legislation was passed in 2011, increasing the 50 percent import tariff on cigarettes by four fold.

With the increase of import tariff by 200 percent the price of cigarettes doubled, subsequently raising complaints from “tobacco addicts”.

Unlike many countries which already impose strict supply controls and high prices on tobacco products, the Maldives has long enjoyed cheap rates with a pack easily available from shops between Rf18-25 (US$1.16-1.62), subject to brand, while a single cigarette costs one rufiya.

Following rise in import duty in the Maldives, the cheapest brand is available at almost Rf35 (US$2.27) and a single cigarette costs almost two or three rufiya.

By comparision, a pack of cheap cigarettes costs the equivalent of Rf66 in the USA, Rf112 in the UK and Rf158 in Australia.

To understand how the smoking habits have changed since the price hike, Minivan News interviewed five smokers aged between 18-40.

Every respondent claimed the daily number of cigarettes smoked remain unchanged, although one who is 20 years old claimed to have reduced it a “little”.

“I finish a pack [almost 20] everyday,” a 35 year-old said. “It is really difficult since the price has increased but I can’t control it. Sometimes I smoke secretly because my wife does not like it”

However, during the interview which was conducted at a café’, the man cancelled an order for a cigarette pack after the waiter mentioned the price. “It’s way too costly at the restaurants,” he says.

Lizneen, 24, also claims his smoking habits still remain same – almost 10-20 cigarettes per day.

However, he revealed an interesting trend among the smokers: “We don’t share anymore,” he explained. “There are some smokers who take one or two from others, but because it’s expensive now most who buy cigarette packs hide it or do not smoke in front others who ask for smokes. I do that. My friends too”.

Meanwhile, another 28 year-old who spoke to Minivan News said the change in price “brought no change to my demand and habit”.

“I started smoking at the age of 15 to make my Dad angry for abandoning us while we were still studying. I tried to quit for my wife because she did not like it. But I gave up trying because she left me,” he said.

An 18 year-old, who similarly started smoking at a young age, claimed he would “continue to smoke even if the price increases to Rf100”.

“I can’t stop even if I want to. So why try? There is nowhere I can go to get help. I don’t even know where I can get the help,” he said. “Nobody even cares. It’s all politics now.”

Fight continues

Deputy Director at the CCHDC Hassan Mohamed, who also heads the Tobacco Control Unit, observed that tobacco use is  a “global menace” which has been rooted in the Maldives “since our forefathers’ time.”

Laws have been passed to control tobacco use over the generations, with the first to be enacted in 1942, while the latest Tobacco Act passed through the existing parliament in 2010.

However, Mohamed argues that “law itself does not solve the issue” and it is the implementation, collaboration and taking initiative that will help to make the Maldives “tobacco free”.

Acknowledging that the existing Tobacco Control Act is “weak” and has “limitations” that have to be bridged by legislation which are now under review, he pointed out that the laws are adequate and the fight against tobacco can be continued.

He added that the rise in cigarette prices has been a “positive move” and will reduce demand in the long run, acting as a heavy barrier to the recruitment of new or potential smokers.

“Affordability is the key factor that determines smoking habits. When the price increases, depending on the threshold, research has shown that smokers do tend to quit,” Mohamed observed. “Since the price hike, we have received phone calls from the islands and to our office from people asking for help to quit smoking.”

Meanwhile, he said that the introduction of four pieces of legislation currently under review would provide more control over the tobacco supply chain, with zero advertising, strict packaging guidelines and heavy penalties in addition to enhanced protection of second-hand smokers with the banning of smoking in stated public areas.

“The legislation would prohibit sale of single cigarettes,” he claimed, pointing out that Health Ministry requires support from other authorities as it had limited jurisdiction over businesses.

He observed initiatives to treat tobacco addicts are limited and an increased effort is required through civil society and community.

Work is also underway to provide quit smoking services, targeted to begin this year. “We have already trained some people. We will soon open a cessation clinic in Male’ and run a four month pilot project,” Mohamed added.

However, he says the Maldives  is facing a “global menace” with multi billion dollar multinationals deliberately exploiting consumers health and well-being to make profits.

“We must keep in mind that in the Maldives we are also fighting against a multi-billion dollar industry. There will be pressures from the global arena and from factors exclusive to Maldives,” Mohamed said. “But we can fight it.”