A new set of regulations on the marketing and consumption of tobacco products took effect in Mozambique at the weekend.
From Saturday onwards it became illegal to smoke in any public place, including all state institutions, restaurants, schools, libraries, hospitals, airports, train stations and all forms of public transport (though it should be added that in most of these places, smoking had already been frowned upon, if not completely banned, long before these regulations were published)
Restaurants, bars, and other places of entertainment can, if they choose, provide a space for smokers. But such a space must occupy no more than 25 per cent of their total area, clearly marked as a smoking area, and separated by walls from the non-smoking areas.
The ventilation for such areas must ensure that the smoke is channelled outside the building so that there is no risk of it being inhaled by the non-smokers.
Nobody can claim that they were taken by surprise by the new regulations. The regulations were published six months before they took effect, precisely so that restaurants and other institutions affected could make the necessary changes.
But AIM is not aware of a single restaurant or bar that has built a walled-off section for smokers and introduced new ventilation systems. The owners of such places are thus planning either to ban smoking throughout the premises - or to ignore the law.
The new regulations also effectively outlaw all advertising for tobacco - not only on radio and television, where such a ban has been in place for many years, but also on the covers of publications and on billboards and posters, and on the walls of any public places.
As from now, tobacco companies are banned from boasting of their good works in sponsoring sports events and the like. Hopefully, this means we will no longer hear how the Mozambican branch of British American Tobacco (BAT) is sponsoring this conference or that seminar.
All cigarette packets must now carry "ample, clear, visible and legible" health warnings, occupying at least 30 per cent of the front of the packet and 25 per cent of the back.
Furthermore, these warnings must be in Mozambique's official language, Portuguese - which may prove something of a headache for traders importing cigarettes from South Africa or other English speaking countries.
The sale of tobacco products to people under 18 is banned, and any establishment with cigarette vending machines must ensure that they are not operated by minors. All places that sell cigarettes must display a prominent sign that under-18s may not buy them. In case of doubt, the shop owner or assistant must demand proof that the buyer is over 18.
The government's intention of safeguarding public health is laudable - but will it be able to enforce these regulations ?
Will the police move to shut down bars where the owners do not stop their clients from smoking ? Will cigarette packets that do not bear health warnings in Portuguese be confiscated and destroyed ?
The spokesperson for the Health Ministry, Martinho Djedje, regarded the new regulations as a first step to defend the public from the effects of tobacco. He said the Ministry has also submitted to the Cabinet a proposal to ratify the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.
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