21 January 2004

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Leisure industry fears smoking ban will have negative economic impact

By Kurt Sansone
Malta will be joining Ireland and Norway this year in enforcing a ban on smoking in public places but the regulations, which come into force in April have raised eyebrows in the leisure industry with one operator describing them as "cold turkey."
The president of the hospitality and leisure division of the GRTU, Philip Fenech said the introduction of smoking regulations in such a blanket manner was not "good social engineering."
"Culture cannot be changed overnight, this is cold turkey," he told The Malta Financial and Business Times.

However, the Director of the Health Promotion Department Dr Mario Spiteri rebutted the statement. "The awareness on the harm caused by passive smoking has been going on for years. The World Health Organisation has established that smoking is the cause of many diseases. The regulations were published in the Government Gazzette in September last year."
Mr Fenech, himself a night club operator, warned of negative economic repercussions the regulations could have on the leisure industry, expected to comply with regulations that prohibit smoking in closed places that offer a service to the public.
"We should have started by banning smoking in places that offer essential services and an educational and awareness campaign should be initiated to sensitise the public to the issue. The leisure industry should be the last to be hit by such regulations," Mr Fenech said.
But for Dr Mario Spiteri, the regulations will have a positive economic impact. "Tobacco is known to cause cancer and heart problems apart from other diseases. The amount of money spent to cure these diseases is enormous. In the longer term the country will be saving money by controlling smoking. Every year in Malta at least 400 people die of smoking related diseases."
The regulations stipulate that public places including restaurants and bars would have to create distinct smoking areas if they are to allow smoking on their premises. For Philip Fenech this will constitute "unfair disadvantage" on most entertainment establishments.
"The majority of entertainment outlets do not have the facilities to create smoking areas and they could be disadvantaged when compared to outlets that have balconies or can be structured to cater for such an eventuality."
The regulations also make owners responsible for enforcing the no-smoking ban. Mr Fenech said this would put a lot of strain on establishment owners if clients insist on abusing the regulations.
Drawing on personal experience as a nightclub owner, Mr Fenech added: "Personally I am a non-smoker and such regulations would make life much easier for me as an operator but obviously, by coercion one will not get the desired results on the issue."
But positive compliance is possible according to Dr Spiteri. "Bars can introduce measures such as air curtains and proper ventilation to ensure non-smokers are not effected by smoking clients. But we must not forget the people who work in such establishments. It is not just clients that have to suffer passive smoking but also barmen and DJs, who cannot get out for some fresh air. Proper enforcement will depend heavily on how assertive people will be but abroad a number of establishments have found that a smoking ban has actually contributed to an increase in clientele rather than the opposite."
Meanwhile, GRTU’s Philip Fenech told this newspaper that the hospitality and leisure division would be consulting with its members in the weeks to come and eventually meet with the authorities in a bid to reach an acceptable compromise.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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