The Minister of Health, Dr. Richard Sezibera, yesterday tabled a bill before parliament that seeks to restrict smoking in public places.
The bill comes as a response to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which Rwanda ratified in 2005.
"Cigarette manufacturers have increased their advertisement and they target mostly women and children," Sezibera told lawmakers.
"Tobacco has today become a global concern and this is why we are introducing a tobacco control law."
The minister told lawmakers that unfortunately, tobacco contains as much as 400 toxic substances and that research figures reveal that there are tobacco-related effects and 25 diseases that affect the lungs, the heart and blood veins.
According to the bill; 'No person shall smoke in any public place, including workplace, or in any part of a public place.'
It lists the restricted areas being; offices and office buildings, court premises, factories, cinema halls, theatres, video houses when they are open to the public; hospitals, clinics and other health institutions, restaurants, hotels, bars or other eating places.
Other restricted areas include, children's homes, areas of residential houses and other premises with a commercial childcare activity, or for schooling or tutoring, places of worship, prisons, police stations and cells.
The bill also impose a ban on smoking from public service vehicles, aircrafts, passenger ships, commuter boats, trains, passengers vehicles, ferries or any other public conveyance and education facilities for attendees aged eighteen and below.
Bus stops and queues at bus stops, airports, air fields, ports, and other public transport terminals, indoor markets, shopping malls and retail and wholesale establishments will also be no smoking areas once the bill is passed into law.
The draft law however indicates that the manager or owner of any enclosed public place and other restricted premises may provide smoking areas within such a place provided they do not inconvenience non-smokers.
The bill also calls for the enlightenment of the public on the dangers of smoking, discourage smoking and protect non-smokers from persuasion or inducements that may encourage them to take up the habit.
Following the minister's presentation, MPs engaged in a heated debate with some calling for a total ban on smoking in the country. MP Constance Mukayuhi said that that the country generates very minimal revenue from tobacco.
"The revenues generated from tobacco are very minimal compared to the damage it causes, yet this law does not say anything about treating intoxicated people," she said.
Abbas Mukama put to task the minister asking why he has not imposed a total ban on smoking yet he is in charge of safeguarding public health.
"The minister should issue a law banning smoking and if the cabinet rejects it, parliament will take it on and initiate it," he proposed.
Mukama's intervention received support from about 20 MPs who equally proposed a total ban on smoking.
However, MP Connie Bwiza expressed her reservations over the establishment of smoking areas saying that it would be isolating and stigmatizing smokers hence infringing on human rights.
A research conducted by the ministry revealed that approximately 880,000 Rwandans smoke. Among these, 58.9% start smoking between at 11 and 15 years, while in academic institutions, between 5.9 of girls and 38.2% of boys smoke.
A recent report by WHO indicates that annually, tobacco smoking claims approximately four million lives world-wide.