Guyana’s proposed Tobacco Control legislation does not seek to ban the sale of cigarettes nor criminalise smokers but aims to protect the population from the ravages of second-hand smoke and the ensuing health costs.
This was one of several messages shared on Tuesday during a sensitisation session hosted by the Ministry of Public Health.
Held at the Grand Coastal Hotel, the session sought to engage members of the media on varying aspects of the Tobacco Control Act which was read for the first time by Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence in June.
The proposed bill has been drafted to address the “tobacco epidemic” by implementing the evidence-based requirements of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which Guyana acceded to on 15 September, 2005.
National Consultant for the Pan-American Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO), Attorney Kesaundra Alves in her presentation said that the proposed legislation is designed to protect the health of the people.
“We are not banning smoking, we are just trying to regulate where smoking can be done in the interest of public health where we have a moral, constitutional and human right obligation to… We are not trying to criminalise the smoker, that’s why the penalty for the person who smokes is so low. We have to put the health of our people first,” she noted.
She further explained that the proposed legislation also speaks to the protection of human rights; prevention of youth initiation; commitment to the Port-of-Spain Declaration of 2007; public health costs and commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal Three which aims to reduce by one-third, premature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment, and promote mental health and well-being by 2030.
Notwithstanding, Alves noted that though the impact of the legislation, once passed, may not be felt immediately, it is their hope that eventually it has such an impact that the next generation of Guyanese is “tobacco free.”
According to the WHO, tobacco kills more than seven million people each year and more than six million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 890 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
Nearly 80% of the world’s smokers live in low and middle-income countries, which would include Guyana.
It was against this backdrop that the Coordinator of the Non- Communicable Diseases Department of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr Kavita Singh in her address underscored the existing burden placed on the local health sector as result of smoking.
“We only have one public institution which offers care as it relates to oncology, and that is at the Georgetown Public Hospital, anything outside of that is usually private, and it is as a result of that we do not have a comprehensive cancer prevention and control plan. This being said, tobacco use is adding to the already existing huge burden, and we know that tobacco is the leading legal cause of death worldwide,” Singh noted.
She said that the Tobacco Control Act does not dictate that one cannot smoke but seeks to put measures in place to protect those who do not wish to smoke and become affected by second-hand smoking.
The doctor made it clear that those exposed to second-hand smoking are equally just at risk of developing cancers and other ailments associated with smoking, as those who smoke since there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.
““In that smoke we are exposed to over 250 carcinogens… there is no level of second-hand smoking that can be established to be deemed not harmful…even the slightest disposition of second-hand smoking is harmful to humans,” Singh explained.
According to WHO, “In adults second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer. In infants, it causes sudden death. Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places. Second-hand smoke causes more than 890,000 premature deaths per year; in 2004, children accounted for 28% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke.
“Every person should be able to breathe tobacco-smoke-free air. Smoke-free laws protect the health of non-smokers, are popular, do not harm business and encourage smokers to quit. Over 1.3 billion people, or 18% of the world’s population, are protected by comprehensive national smoke-free laws.”
The need for Guyana to follow suit with the implementation of Tobacco Control regulations was reiterated by Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Ministry of Public Health, Terrence Esseboom who said that Guyana has fallen behind on its commitment to implement such regulations. This would include the failure to implement any of its WHO FCTC obligations, he said, while adding that it’s a lapse in commitments made under the Port of Spain Declaration of 2007.
“Guyana is nine years behind schedule when we should have already had policies to satisfy these things in place,” he explained, as he referenced Article 11 of the WHO FCTC which speaks to adaptation and implementation of effective measures to ensure that tobacco product packaging and labelling do not promote a tobacco product by any means which are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics, health effects, hazards or emissions.
Paramount to the need for passage of the legislation as argued by both Esseboom and Alves, is the fact that the spread of the “tobacco epidemic” is not done by infection but rather though marketing and advertising.
This being said, Esseboom reminded the audience that Guyana is also seven years behind the implementation of Article 13 of the WHO FCTC which specifically addresses concerns related to Tobacco Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS).
“We were serious 12 years ago, and we are serious today though we have been a little tardy in doing what we should,” the PRO added.
As reported by Stabroek News in June, the proposed legislation seeks to prohibit smoking in any area within five metres from a window or doorway to any indoor public place or workplace; anywhere on the premises of, and within five metres from the boundaries of any health care, educational and child care facilities; and in any waiting area or queue, including but not limited to public transport stops, bus stands and bus parks.
Further, smoking would also not be allowed at parks, playgrounds and amusement parks; a stadium, arena, or any kind of sports or performance space; any designated site of historic or national significance; a space for the service or consumption of food or drink; and any other outdoor space specified in the regulations. Any person who smokes in a place where smoking is prohibited can be fined $10,000 for the first offence and $20,000 for the second offence.
The proposed legislation seeks to establish a National Tobacco Control Council to advise the Minister of Public Health on matters related to tobacco control; identify the enforcement powers of authorized officers, who are authorized to conduct inspections, investigations or enforcement activities under the Act.
Other clauses speak of setting out the duties of the person responsible for public transport or place where smoking is prohibited; to enforce the ban on smoking in public places; a person can be fined $400,000 and jailed for six months if he/she does not act in accordance with the regulations.
The bill also states that for the purpose of compliance monitoring, manufacturers, wholesale distributors and importers shall provide to the minister in the time and manner prescribed by regulations, a report on any TAPS activity, or advertising, promotion and sponsorship of electronic nicotine delivery systems undertaken during the reporting period.
Those who refuse to submit a report can be fined $2 million and jailed for six months upon conviction.