No data to justify u-turn on smoking ban for outdoor dining areas – health NGOs

Allowing smoking in outdoor areas of restaurants goes against all scientific evidence and will put entire families at risk, a network representing 40 health organisations has said.

The Malta Health Network urged the government to reconsider its decision to scrap the ban and argued that there was no good reason for it to have done so.

“There exists no data supporting the government’s narrative that this amendment will support the dining sector,” the network said in a letter to Health Minister Chris Fearne and Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci.

It said that the research, if anything, pointed in the other direction – that smoking bans were positively associated with increased sales in restaurants. It cited a peer-reviewed study which used South Korea as a case study to illustrate its point.

MHN sent its letter to Fearne and Gauci on Saturday, one day after a legal notice was introduced to revoke a ban on smoking in outdoor areas of restaurants.

The ban, which prohibited smoking within 10 metres of anywhere where food was served, had been introduced in May as authorities drafted rules for restaurants to reopen for business during the pandemic.

The government has yet to comment on its decision to revoke the ban, just two months after it was introduced.

MHN said it was not clear why the government had decided to reverse its policy, while also accusing authorities of “putting economical and financial considerations before the health and well-being of the Maltese”.

Roughly one in every five Maltese smokes every day, studies have suggested. Cigarettes are acknowledged to be extremely harmful to people’s health and smoking is linked to increased chances of cancer, cardiac and respiratory issues, among others.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, multiple studies have found a correlation between smoking bans and decreased prevalence of cigarette smoking.

In its letter, the MHN noted that smoking bans tended to help “denormalize” smoking and made it less likely for young people to take up the habit.

Allowing smoking in outdoor dining areas also exposed families to second-hand smoke and made dining less enjoyable for the roughly 80 per cent of locals who do not smoke, it added, with vulnerable people left the worst off.

The network urged authorities to reconsider the switch and maintain the ban on smoking within 10 metres where food is served.

The MHN brings together roughly 40 NGOs and associations working in the health sector promote the health-related interests of patients and the wider community. It was established in 2007.