Some years ago when I served as the Secretary of UGSS, the then Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy held the position that the University of Guyana should be made a smoke free zone. I never spoke to Dr Ramsammy before and stand corrected if that was not his position; however, it was brought to my attention by senior officials of UG that the then Minister held the position of making UG in its entirety a smoke-free zone. I was very uncomfortable with that position and immediately started to make my voice heard.
After making a lot of noise on campus with the intention of protesting the Minister’s intended position, I wrote directly to the Minister outlining my position and that of many other smokers on campus. He never replied. In my missive I highlighted the fact that the University of Guyana is a public space and the peaceful existence of students and staff within the public space should not be hampered by an imposition that is not constitutionally supported. I went on to state that it is my democratic right to smoke if I so choose, however it will be utterly wrong of me to disturb the peaceful existence of someone else if I am to bring discomfort to them with my habit of smoking. Smoking is not the issue but rather when I smoke and where I smoke. I then suggested to the Minister that there should be smoke free zones within the University of Guyana and as a student leader I will work to ensure the rule is upheld. I ended my letter by stating that smokers must not impinge on non-smokers’ space and similarly non-smokers must not impinge on smokers’ space. My letter was copied to the then Vice Chancellor and union leaders.
I cannot exactly remember the date the then Minister visited the campus, but he visited and signed an agreement with the Vice Chancellor and UGSS to make all buildings on campus smoke free zones. I wanted specific places to be identified as smoke zones but that didn’t happen.
Nonetheless I welcomed the decision to make buildings smoke free zones, for it showed respect to all, but would have preferred about five different areas on campus, of course downwind, to be made smoke zones and all other areas smoke free zones. Editor, my position then and now is the same, and for that reason it gives me great pleasure as a smoker to endorse and throw my full support behind the recently approved Bill.
I also call on President David Granger to assent to the said Bill, for a nation’s wealth is its health. Only the ignorant will believe that there is going to be a complete ban on smoking, and further the people and companies that benefit from smoking and smokers respectively, will of course try to distort and manipulate the real truth of the matter. The facts remain that smoking in the eyes of this government is not the problem but rather where you smoke and when you smoke; suffice it to say that this law will not be in isolation from the world. There are many, many countries that have similar laws and in fact more stringent ones that the Bill recently approved by the National Assembly of Guyana.
Editor, I can argue my position further by comparing and contrasting the benefits of cigarette smoking verses the negative effects, but the irreversible damage of cigarette smoking to myself and friends is more important to address than the soothing and relaxing comfort I claim to get from cigarette smoking.
In closing I wish to reaffirm my support and endorsement of the Bill recently approved by the National Assembly of Guyana.