7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018
Local News

Shura Council stubs out anti-smoking law

A LAW aimed at combating smoking had some of the fire taken out of it by the Shura Council yesterday.

They approved a softened version, without jail sentences for people who sell tobacco products to children.

Councillors dropped parliament's proposed six-month jail sentence for those who sell them to children aged below 14, sticking instead to a maximum fine of BD100.

It is currently illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under 18 years.

They also decided to remove an article which stipulated that tax revenue from tobacco products would go to the Health Ministry, rather than the national budget.

The amended draft will now be referred back to parliament and if MPs agree, it will go to His Majesty King Hamad for ratification.

But if MPs reject the Shura Council amendments, the bill will go to a full joint National Assembly meeting for a final vote.

The draft is a combination of the original draft proposed by the Health Ministry 14 years ago and presented to the Shura Council then, but which was left on file until parliament reactivated the issue.

Under the proposed law, places such as restaurants which fail to properly separate smoking and non-smoking areas, or violate smoking restrictions, will be fined from BD100 to BD1,000 and closed for up to three months for repeat offences.

People who smoke in closed areas, including buses and malls among others, would face fines of BD50 to BD100.

Adults who smoke in cars with children aboard will also be prosecuted.

Council financial and economic affairs committee chairman Khalid Al Maskati backed the proposal to allocate tobacco tax money to the health ministry, so it could combat the effects of smoking.

Health Minister Dr Faisal Al Hamer said that if it went ahead, the money would be used to help raise awareness and help those in need of medical attention due to smoking, amongst other purposes.

Council first vice-chairman Jamal Fakhro said that the Finance Ministry was asking the Information Ministry to return tax money taken from tourist outlets, which it took through a ministerial decree in 1996.

"It takes a percentage of the tax, while the rest it sends to the Finance Ministry, which is wrong. Now they have been told to return it all," he said.

"The Health Ministry doesn't need the money, what it has is enough."

Councillor Rashid Al Sabt said that there was a difference - the Information Ministry did not take the tax money through a law, while the Health Ministry would.

"This money would be very beneficial in curbing smoking, considering that proper advertisements would be brought out by the Health Ministry, rather than the current small campaigns they do with sponsors," he said.

A national anti-smoking authority, chaired by the Health Minister, will be formed to implement and supervise the law, if it goes ahead.

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