Former Health Minister supports Tobacco Control Bill; Urges parties to allow MPs to vote conscience

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The passage of the Tobacco Control Bill will “represent a momentous event for our legislators and, more importantly, will be to the benefit of all Guyanese.” This view was expressed by Former Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy who congratulated current Minister of Public Health for taking the Bill to the National Assembly.

The Tobacco Control Bill is being read in the National Assembly for the first time today (Thursday, June 14, 2017).

Dr. Ramsammy said he is hopeful that this Bill will have little difficulty in passing through Parliament as he urges “political parties to allow MPs to vote their conscience on this Bill.” It is expected that the Bill will receive full support from the Government’s side of the House. However, it is the Opposition Peoples Progressive Party which may have to let their members vote based on their conscience.

The Former Health Minister says his inability to have the Bill passed remains one of his biggest regrets while serving in the office between May 2001 and December 2011.

While he expressed his regret with not being able to get the then Administration to increase taxes on tobacco, it is his hope that the current administration can do so.

“It is ironic that the government has introduced or increased more than 200 new taxes, but did not touch tobacco. This is reprehensible. Since 2001, I am on record in calling for higher tobacco taxes in Guyana and around the world. Although generally supportive of my position, the PPP under President Jagdeo did not move in that direction because it’s taxation policy did not support new taxes. Even though it did introduce VAT, those taxes replaced a number of other taxes. But I think the PPP was wrong on this issue, and I think that APNU+AFC is also wrong in not introducing increased taxes on tobacco, particularly since they have introduced or increased 200 new taxes,” Ramsammy pointed out.

According to Dr. Ramsammy, the Bill was first drafted in 2009. However, the Private Sector said Tobacco Companies were not consulted, but the companies were excluded because the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which Guyana was a signatory to, prohibits consultations with tobacco companies.

Ramsammy recognised Ms. Kasundra Alves who is the present Chair of the GPHC Board as the chief drafter of the Bill.

The Tobacco Control Bill 2017, Bill no. 5 of 2017 will provide for the adoption and implementation of tobacco control policies in accordance with the World Health Organisation’s FCTC.

The legislation will provide legislative protection from exposure to second-hand smoke.

It will also see the establishment of a National Tobacco Control Council and guide the way advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco are handled. It will also outline sales requirements as well as the regulations and reporting for the tobacco industry. Corrective action and additional provisions for penalties can also be found in the draft Bill.

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