The implementation and enforcement of the laws and regulations contained in the Tobacco Control Act are now dependent on the establishment of a Tobacco Enforcement Committee.
Stabroek News understands that it is only when the committee has been established and made public that the enforcement of the laws and regulations will commence.
Last December, the Ministry in a press statement explained that several things had to be undertaken before the laws and regulations of the Tobacco Control Act are enforced.
This included an engagement with the local tobacco company to discuss matters of packaging and labelling of tobacco products, sponsorship and advertising.
The Ministry had also disclosed plans to undertake an “aggressive” education and awareness campaign and the training of staff from other agencies and its own ministry, in the implementation of the regulations of the Tobacco Control Act.
However, Director of the Non-Communicable Diseases Unit of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Kavita Singh in a brief interview on Tuesday with Stabroek News noted that while the Ministry has been working assiduously to put everything in order, they are not there as yet.
Commenting on the establishment of the committee, Singh explained that persons have already been identified to be a part of the committee which will ultimately be chaired by the Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence.
It was noted, however, that the letters of invitation are still waiting to be dispatched to the nominees for their consideration.
This newspaper understands that in addition to the establishment of the committee, the laws and regulations also have to be gazetted before any enforcement can be done.
With regard to the undertaking of the education and awareness campaign, Singh explained that that specific activity has not yet begun since they are currently waiting on the informational material and other ICT materials which will be used in the campaign.
She also noted that the campaign will not be a “one off thing” since it is expected to run for a period of three to five years and will be targeting all the vulnerable groups.
“The Ministry has quite a lot to do before we begin the campaign and we are working to make sure we have everything in order,” Singh said, before noting that they are looking to officially begin the campaign in March.
Commenting on the plans to engage the tobacco company, Singh explained that the Ministry is currently in the process of testing the images selected for the packages; once this is done, the Ministry will engage the company to discuss the new packaging and labelling requirements for tobacco products.
It is further understood that the company will have a period of nine months to comply with the new regulations.
In terms of the training of staff and others from the various agencies, as mentioned in the statement, Singh noted that while they would have completed the sensitization training with the staff of the Ministry of Public Health, they have not yet commenced training for the implementation of the laws and regulations.
The commencement of this training is dependent on the arrival of a consultant and other technical officers from the Pan American Health Organisation, she added.
The Ministry, in a statement last December, in an effort to clarify what it said were misrepresentations in the media that smoking was banned in public under the Tobacco Control Act, had said, “The Act provides for a ban on smoking in indoor public places, indoor work places and public transportation, and only in specified outdoor places, including the premises of schools and health facilities, and places for the commercial service of food and drinks. The Tobacco Control Act regulates where persons can smoke tobacco products in order to protect others from exposure to dangerous secondhand smoke, but it does not ban smoking.”
It pointed out that in August 2017, the Tobacco Control Act became law after passage through the National Assembly and assent by the President. It said that the Minister of Public Health was empowered under the Act to provide the commencement date upon which the laws will become effective.
However, in order to facilitate the phased implementation of the Act and the publication of regulations under the Act, including those for ‘no smoking’ signs and packaging and labelling of tobacco products, the release said that the Minister had assigned the commencement date for the Tobacco Control Act as 11th December, 2017.
It was further noted that initially, enforcement will focus on the tobacco industry.
The Ministry, the release had said, would meet with the tobacco industry in January 2018 to inform it of the implementation of the complete ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. That meeting has not been held. Once regulations for tobacco products’ packaging and labelling are passed, the tobacco industry will have nine months to comply with the regulations. The Ministry said it would advise the public as implementation of the various aspects of the law take effect.
The release had also stated that the Ministry of Public Health in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) had already started training implementing agencies in relation to implementation of the Act and that the Ministry’s staff were being trained to take the campaign to the business community including vendors, and the public at large.
“Beginning next month, the nation will see the roll out of an aggressive education and awareness campaign, and by late 2018, tobacco product packages will bear graphic health warnings which inform consumers about the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke”, the statement had said.
The release had added that enforcement of no smoking laws in places where smoking is prohibited would not be done until the publication of ‘no-smoking’ signs regulations and sensitization with the business community so that they understand their role with regard to compliance.