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.
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.