DEMTOCO denies preventing passage of anti-tobacco laws

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Local distributor, the Demerara Tobacco Company Ltd (DEMTOCO), has rejected assertions by a local Pan American Health Organisation/World Health Organisation (PAHO/WHO) representative, Dr William Adu-Krow that it is trying to delay the passage and assent of the Tobacco Control Bill of 2017.

Demtoco Managing Director Maurlain Kirton

The company in a statement on Friday said it understands the interests of PAHO, and their representative in attaining their objectives across the Caribbean, but “we reject this false assertion, and urge them to allow the Guyanese people and democratic consultative processes, to institute a good piece of legislation that will be progressive, non-discriminatory and fair.”
In fact, the company pointed out that over the past weeks, it has indicated support for the regulation of the local tobacco industry, especially since Government is obligated to do so being party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
It added too that they had written to the Public Health Ministers (present and past) Volda Lawrence and Dr George Norton, offering assistance and support towards ensuring the development of a balanced piece of tobacco legislation.
However, DEMTOCO noted that since the passage of the Bill, it has made public its disappointment on specific clauses in the legislation which it said are harsh, and contain significant discriminatory measures that would negatively impact ordinary Guyanese.
“These concerning clauses, we believe go way beyond the stated intent of what a tobacco bill should be concerned with,” the company said.
It was on this basis that it had written the Head of State, following a similar appeal by the Private Sector Commission (PSC), expressing concerns with the form in which the Bill was passed. In that correspondence, DEMTOCO clearly outlined the areas with which it has concerns.
These include: the fact that the definition of “workplace” within the Bill infringes on the rights of homeowners to smoke in their own homes if they have employed help, and is calling for an exception to be made with regards to private homes, when defining “workplace”; that under Public Place Smoking Ban section, no smoking in indoor places should not include private homes; and that under the same section, the ban imposed on smoking in bars, restaurants and hotels can accommodate both smokers and non-smokers alike with a provision for the establishment of outdoor designated smoking areas.
The company also asks that the legislation be amended to allow “the display of products at the point of sale only” so customers can see what they are buying. It said that the ban on product display will not only see a serious rise in the illicit Tobacco trade by driving legal tobacco sales under the counter as it had experienced in neighbouring Suriname but also affect Government’s ability to collect the taxes it requires to aid in nation building.
DEMTOCO further noted that the ban on carrying trays with tobacco products is significantly harsh and will affect the livelihood and income of hawkers. While Government has noted that the motivation for this particular ban is to stop the sale of cigarettes to minors, the company suggests that the Bill be amended to allow for carrying trays to be labelled with required health warnings and declarations against selling to minors which can be provided by the Tobacco Company, through retailers.
Moreover, the company wants the articles avoiding relations with the industry contained in Sections 40-44 of the Bill, be removed. The Tobacco Company remains a key, legal stakeholder in the economic landscape of Guyana and as such should not be treated as a pariah simply because there is a powerful lobby against our products.
It noted too that under the same section, a person applying for a Government job is required to disclose their employment/relationship with the tobacco industry, if it occurred within five years of their application. Company said this is discriminatory and also affects persons employed in supermarkets, gas stations and any other place selling cigarettes or tobacco products.
DEMTOCO is calling on President Granger to place the Bill in the joint Select Committee of Parliament, so that a more reasonable solution could be arrived at before the gazetting of the Bill.
In this light, DEMTOCO said it “categorically rejects any effort to impugn the character of the industry, and reaffirm its support for the passage of a Tobacco Control Bill that is fair, balanced, and non-discriminatory.”