Little enforcement of Jamaica Tobacco Control Act douses its relevance

(Jamaica Observer) It has existed on Jamaican law books for three years now, but the one-time much heralded Public Health Tobacco Control Regulations Act 2013, seems to have virtually gone up in smoke.

While police statistics on the number of offenders under the Act were not immediately available, checks made by the Jamaica Observer showed that despite clear violations daily, only two persons have been prosecuted since the Act was promulgated on July 15, 2013, almost three weeks after it was announced by then Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson during the Sectoral Debate in Parliament on June 25, 2013.

It was still unclear if there has been a conviction, as a request made of the Statistics Department of the Jamaica Constabulary Force is still pending.

The current regulations make it illegal for persons to smoke in areas designated as specified public places, which include all enclosed places accessible to the public; public transportation; workplaces; Government-owned and occupied buildings; health facilities including pharmacies; sports and recreational facilities for use by the public; educational institutions; areas specifically for use by children; and places of collective use such as bus stops.

Fines range from J$50,000 and/or imprisonment for three months for first-time offenders; J$500,000 for a second breach, to J$1 million for organisations and institutions in violation.

Dr Ferguson, who later became Minister of Labour and Social Security, remains Member of Parliament for St Thomas Eastern following the February 25 General Election in which his People’s National Party was relegated to the ranks of the Opposition.

Despite going up against strong forces that were against the ban on smoking in public places, many of them high-ranking officials in his party, Dr Ferguson managed to get the Act passed. Now, he laments the lack of enforcement at a time when there seems to be a free-for-all, and blatant disrespect for the law, which had, among other things as its primary focus, the protection and preservation of human life.

“As it relates to enforcement and the police, in the early days, because we know there was a need for public education, there was a discussion with the police high command. We couldn’t tell them not to prosecute, but they were lenient in not making any immediate moves … they were flexible in terms of prosecution and therefore, during the period we were making some minor amendments to the initial Act. But since then, the police have not been aggressive in their pursuit of offenders,” Dr Ferguson told the Jamaica Observer.

“There were some bars and clubs all over Jamaica that, from day one, have been in violation and I want to take the opportunity to remind them that the fine in those institutions for owners is one million dollars. It is a massive fine. So certainly, if the police were to act, the first man who gets licked with a million dollars, it would send the signal to those who frivolously violate the law that the regulations are serious, and I think the task now for Minister (Dr Christopher) Tufton is to continue the cause,” Dr Ferguson went on.

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