… but pledges to abide by law
By Jarryl Bryan
One day after the passage in the National Assembly of the Tobacco Control Bill 2017, which will clamp down on smoking in Guyana, one of Guyana’s largest
tobacco companies has come out in support of the legislation. However, it is not unqualified support, as the company took a swing at the Government for lack of consultations and the clauses of the bill.
According to Demerara Tobacco Company (Demtoco) Managing Director Maurlain Kirton, the company is in support of regulations on the tobacco industry, in keeping with the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention in Tobacco Control (WHO/FCTC).
“We remain very concerned that the Bill in many clauses infringes on the rights of ordinary citizens and discriminates against many who are seeking to earn their livelihood from the trading of a legal product,” the company stated on Friday. “We
remain opposed to the ban of selling in trays.”
The company said that it was further disappointed that it was not given the full opportunity through formal consultations to advance its views, aimed principally at attaining balance and removing elements of discrimination and other measures that are too draconian.
It struck an optimistic note, however, noting that it was not too late to have the Bill sent to a Special Select Committee in Parliament. Using Jamaica as an example, the company expressed that this was to resolve the contentious parts of the Bill.
According to Demerara Tobacco, the Bill does not go into effect for the next nine months and it promised to work with its customers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors to educate and help them transition.
“So, it is business as usual, while the company, industry and country prepare for an effective start-up date of around May 2018,” it stated.
Lack of consultations and not seeking the buy-in of affected stakeholders have
seen the Government face significant backlash over the past few months. The company’s concerns regarding consultations mirror those of the stakeholders about the Land Rights Commission of Inquiry (CoI).
Years in the making, the Bill passed during Thursday evening’s sitting of the National Assembly with most of the Opposition party abstaining from the vote. In her presentation, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence argued that the Bill would rectify Guyana’s failure to fulfil its international and constitutional commitments.
“Guyana has no tobacco control legislation and has fallen way behind in the implementation of its obligations under the WHO FCT, under the Port of Spain declaration and its constitutional commitment to safeguard the health of its people,” Lawrence said in her address. She added that Guyana had failed to honour its obligation.
However, Opposition parliamentarian Clement Rohee took the Government to task for failure to provide updated statistics on smoking in Guyana. He noted that if such statistics were available, they should be distributed.
“One cannot speak in abstraction when seeking to convince us that smoking and tobacco is bad, but there are no statistics. This is one of the weaknesses of the presentation. We are told for example that tobacco is the leading cause of death.”
“This may be so in the WHO data. But in the Guyana context, do we have specificities in the form of data about smoking affecting minors? Do we have specificities in form of data in respect to smoking in (different) locations? I want to believe that if this data is available, then it should be presented in the House, so we can be convinced on the basis of fact rather than fiction.”
Acknowledging that the Bill was initiated by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), the former Minister also explained that it was intentionally never tabled because of outstanding issues. One of Rohee’s concerns with the Bill was persons being given Police powers to arrest and haul defaulters into the Police Stations. In addition, he expressed worry about small-scale dealers.
Among the provisions of the Bill is a ban on smoking in indoor workplaces, public transport, stadiums, parks and national sites. In the Bill, smoking is also prohibited in any area within five metres of a health-care, educational or child-care facility.Part Five, Section 16 (3) states: “Any person who smokes in any place where smoking is prohibited commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $10,000 for the first offence, and $20,000 for any second or subsequent offence.”The Bill provides for a number of other fines and penalties, ranging from $200,000 and six months’ imprisonment. Corporate bodies can also face fines of up to $9 million for infringing on the ban regarding advertising.
The Bill also regulates the sale of cigarettes, as well as prohibits all forms of tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotion. It also provides for the creation of a National Tobacco Control Council that will provide advice to the Public Health Minister.