بســم اللّـه الرّحمـن الرّحيــم
Minister of Health, Minister of Gender and Minister of Home affairs, our honourable beloved MPs and Mr Mathur from WHO, a close friend of us always, and the rest of his team. Good Evening and
I was listening to all the speakers before me, and I was shocked to hear the bad news about tobacco consumption. And I want to say tobacco should be controlled. But why? When? How? All of you gave a lot of information about why. Before I came here, I had a glimpse into the literature. There are about seven thousand chemicals associated with tobacco. Seven thousand chemicals and seventy chemicals are cancerous. Cancer kills. If you smoke, it affects not only your lungs. It affects your eyesight. And it has been proven. I’m not a doctor but these are facts. People have written heaps of papers and done research on this.
So tobacco is a killer. It is a killer epidemic. We have to find a solution to this. Not only because of the health problems but also I see there are some economic costs. I always go into the economics. 1.1 billion rufiyaa is quite a lot of money which we better use to the benefit of our Gender Ministry, our Health Ministry, or the Home Ministry, and other Ministries as well. But I think there is an opportunity cost. If we spend 1.1 billion what is the opportunity cost of that 1.1 billion? We should spend on something else. I believe, the State Minister for Health Dr. Rameela can tell us more about what we can spend on. There are indeed ample reasons to control tobacco.
Once, I phoned one of my friends who smokes and asked him “How much do you spend per day on tobacco?” He told me he takes two packets of cigarettes. Each one costs about fifty rufiyaa. So it means in a day, he spends around a hundred rufiyaa. And if you multiply it by thirty, it comes to around three thousand rufiyaa. Just for tobacco alone. Consider the case of a low-income individual who earns around three hundred dollars per month. If he spends one thousand rufiyaa on tobacco from his income, it is about twenty-five percent of his income. He is essentially spending money on killing himself. I call it slow-motion suicide. Smoking is a slow-motion suicide, because it affects your body in many negative ways.
Recently I was in Bumrungrad Thailand, went to a doctor and he asked me, “Do you smoke? I said, “No”. “Have you ever smoked?” I said, “No”. And he said, “Many people who come from Maldives are smokers. Why are you not smoking?” I said, “I am a tobacco-free man. I always advocate against smoking. So I have always remained a non-smoker and I will remain as a non-smoker. And also, none of my family members smoke.”
Secondly, everyone talks about taxation. I spent nine years working at the tax authority. As far as developing tax legislations is concerned, we recently saw the honourable MPs increase the import duty on tobacco. As mentioned by Hassan Mohamed there is still room for tax increase. But we have to be careful about timing, because tax is not easy to implement. We might have the willpower to implement tax but then it should be at the right timing. But I think, at a high level, we will have to take measures to reduce tobacco consumption, by giving some disincentives for people to discourage the habit. But as far as taxes are concerned, we will still need to sit and discuss with MPs to find the best time for it. It could be revised tax legislation or a revised import duty on tax. And the Minister also told me that he is going to put plain packaging on the packets, and we will have to have the legislation passed. I’m sure the honourable MPs here will give full cooperation on this. They have always been with us on all fronts, and worked closely together.
I always say charity begins at home. So if you want to quit smoking we have to quit smoking at home, because smoking also destroys the young foetus in the mother’s womb.
So it’s also important that we have tobacco-free homes. Very often we find our homes are not smoke-free. So we have to tell our parents, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters not to smoke at home. It is very important. We cannot be second-hand smokers. If you look at people who die from second-hand smoke, the numbers are quite alarming, even in the US. So, this is something that we have to think about. Our homes should be smoke-free. I’m confident the Minister can do this. The Minister has the willpower to do this.
So, as charity begins at home, we have to make sure no one at home smokes. If they want to smoke, they have to go outside the house. They should not smoke in close compartments especially. This is an important message we should give to the people.
Education and advocacy are important. I’m pretty sure there aren’t many smokers here, if not none. If you are smoking, I strongly urge you to quit smoking or to seek help. We can help you to quit smoking. Either you quit smoking or I can help you to quit smoking. So, this is charity that we are offering today in this room. This is our home. Let’s start right here.
So, I strongly urge all of you to quit smoking, or if your friends are smoking, please assist them to quit. Let’s do this. Start from you, your friends, your parents, your daughters, your sisters, your mothers and fathers. Let’s carry forward this campaign. This is a good campaign and I’m sure we can succeed if all of us work together. We can succeed.
And our pledge is to create a smoke-free next generation. This may not happen in this generation, but we can hope for it to happen in the future. The next generation will not consume tobacco. That is our pledge today. I’m sure this can be done if we work together. We have the energy, we have the power, we also have the commitment, and we also have the cooperation and coordination. I’m sure people around here will help us, all of our friends from WHO and the rest of the international community.
I have asked three questions. Why control tobacco? How we should control tobacco? And when we should control tobacco? I think the sooner, the better. I’m sure the government also can make a contribution. It is difficult to earmark funds, especially for tobacco consumption, because of the Financial Act. That is how it is right now. But we can allocate an amount from the budget to control tobacco. So, that can be done. I’m sure the Minister will submit the budget to the parliament or to Minister of Finance. He would be able to at least, decide on the new allocations for this campaign. Let’s hope. This is a request from all of us. Because of the catastrophic nature of tobacco, I think it is important we do it.
I will do my best to control tobacco. I give my full commitment to this cause, which calls to make Maldives a smoke-free nation. And this campaign will be carried out. Tomorrow, I believe, the Minister will share his words and talk about this. So let’s start in a small way and then gradually we can go on building it. Rome was not built in a day so we’ll not be able to accomplish things overnight. As I’m sure it will take time. If you have good willpower, we can speed up the process. Let me conclude my speech by saying a few words in our native language with your permission.
އަޅުގަނޑަށް މިފުރުޞަތު ދެއްވިކަމަށްޓަކައި މިނިސްޓަރަށް ވަރަށްބޮޑަށް އިޙުލާސްތެރިކަމާއެކީ ޝުކުރު ދަންނަވަން. މިނިސްޓަރ ތިޔަ ކުރައްވާ މަސައްކަތުގައި اللّـه تعـالى ބަރަކާތް ލައްވާށި! އަދި ރާއްޖޭގެ ރައީސުލްޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ ހެލްތު ސެކްޓަރ ތަރައްޤީކުރެއްވުމަށްޓަކައި ކުރައްވާ މަސައްކަތްތަކަށް އާރޯޝަންކަމާއެކީ މަސައްކަތް ކުރެއްވުމުގެ ހިތްވަރު ދެއްވައި، އެމަނިކުފާނު އެކުރައްވާ މަސައްކަތުގައި ﷲ ތައުފީޤު ދެއްވާށި! އަޅުގަނޑު އެދެނީ ދިވެހިރާއްޖެއަކީ ދުންފަތުގެ މި ވަބާއިން ސަލާމަތްވެފައިވާ ދިވެހިރާއްޖެއަކަށްވުން.
والسّلام عليكم ورحمـة اللّـه وبركاته.