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
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, GRTUs 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