The Tobacco Control Bill 2017 was passed by the National Assembly last evening after a lengthy debate of over six hours by both sides of the House.
The legislation will be enforced by the application of several penalties in the form of fines and prison sentences for ‘certain transgressions’. These range from a fine of $200,000 dollars for persons who breach the new regulations, along with 6 months imprisonment, to fines for business entities of up to $9 million dollars.
Presented by Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, the Bill seeks to provide for the adoption of and implementation of tobacco control policies, with the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Giving her closing arguments, Minister Lawrence reminded that, “The Bill speaks to the control of “tobacco and tobacco only”, hence it would not impinge on possible Marijuana legislation in the future. She also explained that calls for provision for sellers and other purveyors of tobacco products to be made, were dissimilar to what obtained for other Bills, hence there was no need for such.
She called for full support of the Bill, with its amendments, as it was read for a second time. The Assembly resolved itself into committee to consider the Bill, clause by clause, as instructed by the House Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland. He noted that there were some 46 clauses and several proposed for amendments.
Amendments were proposed for Amendments: 17, 19, 24, 25, 37, 39, 44 and 45. These were all examined and passed unanimously, via vote.
A total of fourteen (14) Members of Parliament shared their views on the legislation during the proceedings. Supporting Government’s push to pass the Bill, saw MP Jermaine Fegueira for example, citing the billions that countries such as India have spent, to treat persons affected by direct and second-hand smoke for example.
Minister of Telecommunications Catherine Hughes offered her support noting that for decades, the movie industry paid for stars to promote their products but never showed the pain of those dying from cancer. She also recalled her father’s passing, from lung cancer, at the age of 71 and her mother’s death, some three years later to the disease, noting, “We have the responsibility to do better.”
MP Charandas Persaud quoted penalties in Trinidad where the penalty for smoking in a restricted area is $10,000, much higher than what would obtain locally. He remarked, “If you can afford to smoke, then you can afford to pay the fine!”
Several Opposition Members voiced concerns about what they saw as a lack of support systems such as counseling and support for those addicted to smoking. They decried the Bill as being a Tobacco Ban Bill, given the mandatory implications of the legislations. MP Gillian Persaud, was among those who called for systems to be put in place to help persons to quit and those who vend tobacco products for a living.
After a division was called for, the Bill was put to a vote and passed by the Government side, without any support by the Opposition.
The Tobacco Control Bill is available here: http://parliament.gov.gy/chamber-business/bill-status/tobacco-control-bill-2017/