Former Health Minister not giving up call for higher taxes on tobacco


As the death toll related to tobacco increases, a former Health Minister believes it is an issue Guyana should tackle early, by implementing the necessary legislation and higher taxes for tobacco companies.

Globally tobacco-related deaths are projected to increase to 8 Million by 2030 according to the latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Guyana’s Former Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy in an editorial stated that the time is now for higher tobacco taxes in Guyana and around the world because of the effect it has on “those who smoke and those who do not.”

According to Dr. Ramsammy such a move “is a step towards banning tobacco by 2040” in his estimation, a call he recounted making six years ago while serving as the local Health Minister.

He believes there should be the introduction of a Tobacco Control law in Guyana along with increased tobacco taxation, something he says is being ignored by the present administration. Dr. Ramsammy said for several years he attempted to get that piece of legislation into Parliament after a series of consultation and technical support in drafting such a policy.

It was during that process that the Private Sector Commission was consulted on the issue with the exclusion of the Tobacco Companies, a move that met much criticism.

Ramsammy noted that the position was taken because Guyana is signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and it prohibits consultations with tobacco companies.

Today, the former Health Minister is appealing with his replacement who is not Minister Volda Lawrence to get the Bill into Parliament and send it to a Special Select Committee so the country can finally have a Tobacco Control Bill.

“I heard more than a dozen times that Ministers Norton and Cummings would be introducing the Bill at the “next meeting of Parliament”. But each time the sitting comes and goes and nothing happens. This is a bipartisan issue. It affects all Guyanese, those who smoke and those who do not. I am again appealing to the Minister of Health to bring the Bill to Parliament and send it to a Special Select Committee. Let Parliament invite the public to make presentations. In the end, let Guyana have a Tobacco Control Bill. We have been dithering for too long. While we dither, more people are exposed and get sick.”

The recently released report, the Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control discloses that an estimated 6, 000, 000 people die each year from tobacco use, including 600 thousand who die from exposure to secondhand smoke.

The report also calls for strong tobacco control measures to be put in place because more than 80 percent of these deaths are expected to occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Just last year, Former Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton had expressed hope in bringing tobacco control legislation to the House but this has so far been unsuccessful.

However, at his Ministry’s end of year press conference, he had indicated that plans were on stream to do so this year.

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