As the fifth of October, D-Day, for the implementation of the new smoking regulations fast approaches, there can be little doubt that the ban on smoking in public places was well received.
The burning issue, however, remains that related to smoking in places of entertainment. Government should rethink its policy with representatives of the hospitality sector.
While Government is rightly driven to eradicate what is a medically proven harmful practice that carries dire consequences for both smokers and passive inhalers, there is an argument that the hospitality sector has its own idiosyncrasies which Government will be well advised to take into account. People smoke much more in bars and places of entertainment than they do anywhere else. One in two persons tend to smoke when socialising in bars discotheques or night-clubs.
These places, especially the smaller ones in the cores of our villages, cannot adapt to this draconian regulation. The regulations for the smaller sized bars do not come into effect before April of 2005, but in their case the net effect is that they either become non-smoking establishments, or close shop. They do not have the space to create a smoking area and their patrons tend to be pensioners to whom smoking is a way of life and often a temporary escape from their homes often housed by non smoking wives. It is somewhat surprising that the Minister of Health should sound so publicly draconian in their regard yet so silent on general shortcomings in the health sector. Is this not yet another example of being strong with the weak and weak with the strong? The smoking regulations are the clearest example of the political minefield a Government can get into when allowing its politically callous civil servants to drive policy. Health Minister Louis Deguara must realise that civil servants advise, but ministers decide policy.
Government risks confrontation with the entertainment world, not only with its owners but more worryingly with its patrons, generally young up and coming, and politically indifferent. Taking on this power group is courting trouble. The law is also not only silly but more worryingly unenforceable. Can anyone imagine a bar owner calling up the police to take legal action against a smoker, or a club owner policing his premises against smokers. It beggars belief!
The way forward is to reach consensus on a self-policing regime whereby each owner decides whether to be smoking or non-smoking and each patron makes up his or her mind according to the regime applicable to each bar. At the end of the day each owner will swim or drown according to the choices of customers.
A good initiative
The calling of a referendum on the rent laws by the Green party Alternattiva Demokratika is a good initiative. It certainly places on the political agenda an issue deliberately put to rest by the two main political parties, afraid to touch what is a political minefield. Both parties have been superficially driven into the belief that the greater number of tenants to landlords equation risks political trouble for any Party that raises this issue. It is the clearest example of letting sleeping dogs lie.
It is equally heartening to hear Dolores Christina affirm that rent reform is on the agenda in this legislature. There is, to date, too little evidence however that Government is giving this issue its well deserved attention. All players must understand that the issue goes far beyond the effect of having empty houses. Our unfair rent laws may be the very reason why properties are overpriced in our country. It is the clearest example of the economic rules of supply and demand, the less properties on the market the higher the price. This is a reason to reform apart from the need the urgent need to utilise vacant dwellings.
And this will lead to less pressure on making use of pristine land for development purposes.
We sincerely hope that publicising the rent law reform study is not an attempt by Government to derail a referendum. The possibility of launching a referendum by popular demand is a legal instrument never operated to date in our country. It would be a positive development in our democracy, and will make people feel yet again closer to the decision making process. It needs to be encouraged by Government too.