The government is proposing discussions to ban cigarette sales to people born after a certain date, effectively creating the first smoke-free generation.

The measure was proposed in a public consultation document issued on Monday by the Social Policy and Children’s Rights Ministry.

The measure reads: “Initiate discussions at national level to ban cigarette sales to individuals born after a due date agreed by all stakeholders. This will positively impact the health of all future generations.”

It is among 198 measures proposed as part of the government’s vision to improve child well-being for the next six years. The measures were published in a Children’s Policy Framework document unveiled during a conference.

The document does not go into further detail about the proposal.

If it enters into force, the ban would essentially begin the eradication of tobacco smoking.

The UK government did it last month. It said it will introduce a “historic” new law that will ban cigarette sales to those born on or after January 1, 2009. It described the move as “the most significant public health intervention in a generation, saving tens of thousands of lives and saving the NHS billions of pounds”.

It said smoking is the UK’s biggest preventable killer, causing a quarter of cancer deaths.

The UK followed in New Zealand’s footsteps – which introduced a very similar anti-smoking bill last year – as part of the government’s wider effort to make the country smoke free by 2025.

Maltese smokers

As for the Maltese people, their smoking track record is not very encouraging.

In 2021, an EU-wide survey found that Maltese smokers are among the most likely in the bloc to smoke daily. The study found that 97 per cent of self-described smokers in Malta puff on a cigarette at least once daily. That is the second-highest rate in Europe.

On average, they said they puff their way through 14 cigarettes a day and smoke for 28.6 years – a year more than the European average.

The Maltese people’s smoking track record is not very encouraging

The study had also found that the Maltese people attempt smoking at an earlier age than most Europeans.

It was established that the Maltese were 16.9 years old when they had their first drag – a full year younger than their European neighbours.

Then, last year, a local researcher found that the vast majority of children who took part in his study had traces of second-hand smoke in their bodies even though nearly three-quarters of their parents reported they were not exposed to it at home.

Malta banned smoking in all enclosed public spaces in 2004.

Free books and bicycle lessons for all

The government’s public consultation document places emphasis on children’s well-being, health and happiness and outlines how the State intends to serve and protect children throughout this decade.

It aligns its 198 measures under four main “critical national priorities” – improving children’s well-being, supporting families with children, providing a better environment for children and strengthening child participation.

The cigarette ban measure is listed among the proposals to improve children’s well-being. Other measures include the promotion of social skills in classrooms to help children learn how to resolve conflicts, make friends and bond with others and the introduction of an educational programme for adolescents with disability, to help them deal with their sexuality and sexual health.

Other measures aim to strengthen the inclusion of migrant children, encourage children to suggest the books they want on the shelves of their libraries and classrooms and to distribute a book set every year to all primary children to help them build a library at home.

It also proposes the government strengthens trade skills and vocational programmes, empower children to do basic exercise on their own and teach all primary schoolchildren to ride a bicycle, while also improving alternative mobility infrastructure and extend sports centres’ opening hours.

Another measure is to incentivise restaurants to develop healthy menus for children, to reduce the amount of time children spend on their school desks, to introduce a daily PE lesson and to continue discussions to move towards an educational system without homework.

Sick leave, tax breaks and new school subject

To support families with children, the government is proposing, among others, to strengthen family therapy to families in distress, extend urgent family leave from 15 to 30 hours per year and to allow parents to use sick leave when their children are ill.

It is also proposing tax breaks to businesses that subsidise childcare costs, initiate a pilot initiative to establish a ‘Take Children to Work Day’ and increase stipends by 15 per cent.

Children must also be offered a better environment, the document says, for which it proposes more underground parking to reduce the number of vehicles parked on the streets.

It is also suggesting that a set of standards are established for children’s online content creators to ensure a safe online environment that is child-friendly and free from sexual, violent and hateful content.

It further proposes introducing media ethics as a school subject.

Finally, the document vows to strengthen child participation in civic life. It wants to create interactive content for children about laws, policies and services that impact them and to integrate child participation in decision-making within government.

Children’s Rights Minister Michael Falzon said yesterday the vision must prepare tomorrow’s adults as much as it must offer children a healthy present.

“We’re doing this to offer children a better tomorrow, true, but we must also give them a good today,” he said.

“That’s why it is of utmost importance to invest in children.”

The ministry is also urging children to participate in the public consultation process by accessing a web application on empoweringchildren.gov.mt, on which they can share their opinions and suggestions by written submissions, videos, pictures and voice messages.

The public may submit suggestions at research.rpod@gov.mt.

The deadline for submissions is December 21.

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