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Tobacco Bill does not prohibit street vending – Health Minister

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Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence has clarified that the Tobacco Control Bill does not prohibit vendors from road side sales.

The Minister made the comment on Thursday to members of the media, shortly before the commencement of the National Assembly. It was pointed out to the Minister that the Bill explicitly states that “No person shall go into any public place, carrying any tobacco product, electronic delivery system or component in a tray container or otherwise for the purpose of making sales or commercially displaying the product.”

Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence

As such, she explained that this section of Bill prohibits the sale of tobacco products at Government, health, educational and sporting facilities/events. Major concerns were recently expressed by the Demerara Tobacco Company (Demtoco) at a news conference on Wednesday, where it was revealed that Government can lose up to $2.9B of its total revenue gained from one of the major players in the local tobacco industry as a result of the Bill which was recently passed in the National Assembly.

Demtoco argued that the Tobacco Control Bill will drastically increase illicit tobacco trade which already represents approximately 15 percent of total consumption in Guyana. Demtoco said it contributed up to $4 billion in taxes last year and it anticipates that once the legislation takes effect, government’s revenue will tumble. Representatives of the firm explained that based on experiences in other regional territories where similar laws were introduced, government revenues significantly declined.

Demtoco is also concerned that the law criminalises a legal product, as it ultimately bans smoking in one’s own home and it has grave job implications for persons who are associated with the tobacco industry.

The Bill states that the government will not hire or engage any such person to work or service in any capacity with responsibility for tobacco control, including the hundreds of persons who have shares in Demtoco. Demtoco believes the Bill in its current form is highly draconian, discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Though the Bill was passed by government without the support from the parliamentary opposition, Demtoco argued that there is still time to send the Bill to a select committee where some of the contentious issues can be robustly reviewed.

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