‘We will not sacrifice nation’s health for $4B’– Harmon

2017 Tobacco Bill

The Demerara Tobacco Company (DEMTOCO) has raised an outcry over the new Tobacco Bill and the $4 billion its passage will cause that company annually, but Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, has made it clear that Government is not

Minister of State Joseph Harmon

prepared to sacrifice the health of the nation for any amount of money.

The minister was emphatic that the Government would not be putting the health of citizens at risk. In fact, he said the bill has already been passed in the National Assembly, and is awaiting the assent of the President before it becomes law.

He said statements made by interested groups coming after the National Assembly has had a full debate on an issue could very well be too late for what they want to see happen.

“We will not sacrifice the health of this nation even for $4billion. Even if it meant $4 billion or $5billion, the health of this nation is invaluable; there’s no price that we could put to the lives of the citizens of this country,” he declared.

The minister added that the debate on both sides of the house was very robust, with each side realising that the health of the country is of utmost importance.

“The National Assembly did what it had to do — full debate. (The bill was) was passed, and now it is going to be made law. Whether in fact there is a point to be made, I believe this must now be a matter of consultation with the Ministry of Finance, to see whether any accommodation could be made,” he said.

DEMTOCO on Wednesday expressed concerns that the current restrictions included in the Bill could lead to a loss of revenue.

It said that while there is no study to prove this from a business standpoint, this is likely to happen for various reasons, especially since the bill has the potential to create market wherein people would evade taxes. The company, in 2016, contributed some $4 billion in revenue to the national coffers.

The company also expressed disappointment that it was not given full opportunity to have a formal consultation with the Government regarding the Bill.

“The industry is a key stakeholder of a legal product, and should be consulted on any policies which are likely to affect the industry… From conventional wisdom, it would be regulatory best practice to allow all affected stakeholders to participate in the policy-making process, inclusive of the tobacco Industry…,” said Ms Maurlain Kirton, Managing Director of DEMTOCO.

DEMTOCO believes that although the Bill has already been passed in the National Assembly, there was still time for it to be sent to the Special Select Committee. The Minister of State has, however, explained that it was too late for that process.

The company believes that the definitions in the Bill are too vague, and as such, Ms Kirton is requesting that it be properly reviewed before being assented to by President Granger. She said the definition of the term “workplace”, as defined in the Bill, infringes upon the privacy of all Guyanese. Years in the making, the Bill was passed in the National Assembly on July 27 with most members of the Opposition party abstaining from the vote.

In her presentation, Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence had argued that the Bill would rectify Guyana’s failure to fulfil its international and constitutional commitments.