A DIVIDED Shura Council yesterday stubbed out an anti-smoking law, dismissing it as un-enforceable. Members initially approved the proposal last week, but yesterday decided to refer it back to the services committee for complete re-working.
Some objected to part of the draft, which stipulated that adults who smoke in cars with children aboard be prosecuted, saying it was unworkable. Others said prosecuting people who smoke in malls and other closed areas would be even tougher, as courts demand that offenders be caught red-handed.
Members were also presented with a letter contesting the law by tobacco importing company Talal Abu Ghazaleh & Company International, which has a branch in Bahrain.
The letter was sent to council chairman Ali Saleh Al Saleh, who informed councillors about it and gave a copy to the Press.
The proposed law was originally drafted by the Health Ministry 14 years ago and presented to the Shura Council then, but was left on file.
The new draft is a combination of the original draft and a parliamentary proposal.
Under the proposed law, traders who sell tobacco to children aged under 14 years could face up to six months in jail.
Parliament voted in favour of the new law in February and if approved by the council, it will be ratified by His Majesty King Hamad.
Council legislative and legal affairs committee chairman Mohammed Al Halwachi said that Bahrain was in need of an anti-smoking law, but not in the way it had been drafted.
"This law is very harsh and can't be implemented in Bahrain," he said. "Its articles are confusing."
Mr Al Halwachi said the draft did not give an age at which a car passenger would be deemed a child.
"This means that traffic policemen would stop everyone on the basis of suspicion, which is wrong and unacceptable," he said. "Even if the traffic policemen stop the driver, he can always put the cigarette out.
"We are not here speaking about someone being drunk, who could be tested to check if he was drink-driving."
Mr Al Halwachi said that security personnel in malls could be embarrassed, as they approach people smoking in the mall.
"Judges require people to be caught red-handed and the person smoking in the mall can easily put the cigarette out. What would the security guard do, take the butt as evidence to court ?" he asked.
"The law is very difficult to achieve, although it has good intentions. "We need something solid, which people can implement.
Council financial and economic committee chairman Khalid Al Maskati said that Bahrain should first have the law, and then think about amendments that ensure flexibility.
"First, we should have a strong law that would make sure that people are forced to quit the bad habit, then we should consider softening it," he said.
"This draft we have is very tough and is similar to that being implemented in European countries, which have seen a sharp drop in the number of smokers. We want something effective and I believe that this law fulfils that, even with its flaws."
"To stop the future generations from going to this bad habit, we should enforce laws from now to stop smoking."
Mr Al Maskati said that if implemented, Bahrain would be the first in the GCC to have the law.
"Even without the law being effective, people have stopped smoking in malls," he said. This shows that in Bahrain people are keen on combating this bad habit and with this law, this habit would decrease."
He said stiff penalties would get the message across and said even the proposed fines should be increased.
Council public utilities and environment affairs committee Faoud Al Hajji said that the law was very difficult to achieve, especially in women's ma'tams (community halls).
"Those women are used to smoking Gedo (hubble bubble pipes made from pottery) inside the ma'tam, do you want them to storm into the council, if we ban smoking in closed areas ?" he said.
Health Ministry Assistant Under-Secretary for Primary Health Care and Public Health Dr Mariam Al Jalahma said that the council should disregard the letter sent by the tobacco importing company.
"Bahrain has five years to comply with international health standards and one year has already passed. This is one of the important laws, which Bahrain has been obliged to have," she said.