Local distributor, the Demerara Tobacco Company Limited (Demtoco) has rejected the notion that it is attempting to frustrate the legal process of protecting the public against the dangers of licit but harmful drug.
Demtoco argued that its concerns with specific sections of the Tobacco Control Bill 2017, which have also been endorsed by other entities, should not be considered attempts to prevent the anti – tobacco law from coming into force.
The Company reminded that in its public comments on the Tobacco Control Legislation it reiterated support for the regulating of the local tobacco industry, and also the fact that the government has obligations to do so flowing from it being Party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
In this regard, Demtoco said it rejects the assertion by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) Representatives that as an Industry “we would seek to deter President David Granger from carrying out his constitutional responsibility of assenting to the recently passed Tobacco Control Bill of 2017.”
Demtoco pointed out that it even wrote to both the present Public Health Minister Volda Lawrence, and the former George Norton, offering assistance and support towards ensuring the development of a balanced piece of tobacco legislation.
The Company maintained however that the Bill contains specific clauses that are “harsh and contain significant discriminatory measures” that would negatively impact ordinary Guyanese.
“These concerning clauses, we believe go way beyond the stated intent of what a tobacco bill should be concerned with,” the Company said.
According to Demtoco, the definition of “Workplace” within the Bill infringes on the rights of homeowners to smoke in their own homes if they have employed help, for example a gardener or housekeeper.
“It is our considered view that a more reasonable approach to this would be to make an exception to private homes, when defining ‘workplace’.”
But Minister within the Ministry of Public Health Dr Karen Cummings recently emphasised the need for smoking to be restricted in the home.
Other concerns raised by Demtoco are:
- That under the Section that proposes a Public Place Smoking Ban, the reference to no smoking in indoor places should not include private homes. Smoking cigarettes is not an illegal act and therefore should not be banned if a person chooses to do it in their own home. (This was done in both Trinidad and Jamaica)
- That under the same section, the ban imposed on smoking inbars, restaurants and hotels can accommodate both smokers and non-smokers alike with a provision for the establishment of OUTDOOR designated smoking areas. (This is done in other countries)
- That the ban on product display will see a serious rise in the illicit Tobacco trade by driving legal tobacco sales under the counter. We point to our experience in neighbouring Suriname that saw an increase in illicit Tobacco trade from around 12 per cent to 70 percent. This Ban will not only affect retailers’ ability to communicate product availability, but to a greater extent, affect Government’s ability to collect the taxes it requires to aid in nation building. We proposed a fitting compromise to be an amendment that allows “the display of products at the point of sale only” to allow customers to see what they are buying.
The ban on packs of tens is also a fuel for the rise in illicit trade. The majority of consumers not being able to afford a pack of 20, will move to purchase sticks or buy from illicit traders who will move to sell the 10s which the legal trade is being banned from selling. This ban therefore will serve no purpose in terms of the health agenda but will only serve to create and give greater sustenance to the illicit trade business.
- That the Ban on carrying trays with Tobacco products is significantly harshand will affect the livelihood and income of Hawkers, who have built homes, supported their families directly from the proceeds of selling a legal tobacco products. Whilst Government has noted that its motivation for this particular ban is to stop the sale of cigarettes to minors, we suggestthat the Bill be amended to allow for carrying trays to be labeled with required health warnings and declarations against selling to minors. These can be provided by the Tobacco Company, through our retailers.
- That articles avoiding relations with the industry contained in Sections 40-44 of the Bill, includes a list of restrictions and limitations on the interaction between any official, representative, or employee of any government institution responsible for tobacco control and any representative of the tobacco industry or tobacco products. It is our view that these clauses be removed. The Tobacco remains a key, legal stakeholder in the economic landscape of Guyana and as such should not be treated as a pariah simply because there is a powerful lobby against our products.
- That under the same section, a person applying for a Government job is required to disclose their employment/relationship with the Tobacco industry, if it occurred within five (5) years of their application. Not only is this not required by the FCTC, but it is also contrary to both local and international employment principles and regulations. It is in fact, discriminatory to penalize Guyanese legitimately employed or associated with a legal industry, for seeking a government job. This provision in its current form also affects persons employed in supermarkets, gas stations and any other place selling cigarettes or Tobacco products.