Two years after bill is passed advisory body on Tobacco Control now in place

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By Bibi Khatoon

Almost two years after the Government passed the Tobacco Control Legislation, the body responsible for advising the Minister and assisting with crafting a national strategy for tobacco control was launched Friday.

The Tobacco Control legislation bans smoking in specified outdoor spaces, all indoor spaces, all public transport and all vehicles transporting a minor to protect persons from secondhand smoke.

At the Council’s first meeting held at the Health Sector Development Unit’s (HSDU) Camp Street office, Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence pointed out that the use of tobacco products leads to some Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

She alluded to the staggering figures of persons affected globally and in Guyana which puts a strain on the health systems and the country’s budget.

“I’m saddened that…especially our young people are falling prey to the four main groups of NCDs,” the Public Health Minister said.

“We cannot afford the loss of the human resources and financially it will not put us in a good place.”

The council is made up of ten members in accordance with the Tobacco Control Bill passed on June 27, 2017.

Those members are Chief Medical Officer Dr. Shamdeo Persaud as Chairman, Chronic Diseases Coordinator Dr. Kavita Singh as secretary, Mahadeo Ramjag from the Guyana Revenue Authority, Shailendra Rai from the Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS), Technical Officer at the Public Health Ministry, Dr. Mayon Amsterdam and Melissa Del-Richards Assistant Director of Sports.

The Civil Society is represented by Dr Latoya Gooding from the Giving Hope Foundation and Executive Director of Artistes in Direct Support Desiree Edghill. The council’s legal officer is Attorney Kesaundra Alves.

The Minister urged the group to provide her with facts to ensure that her decisions at the policy level are made in the interest of all involved.

“You have a mandate to advise me and please ensure that you advise me giving me all the facts. Give me the horror stories too…please do not withhold anything from me,” she told the ten members.

According to Attorney Alves, Guyana has the third highest case of smoking in the Caribbean.

The Tobacco legislation places a ban on selling cigarettes out of its packaging or what is described as “loose cigarettes” in some areas.

Alves explained that this is to ensure that the user is able to see the images depicting the dangers of smoking which are now placed on the packages.

It is now illegal to sell cigarettes to children; as such no vending machines can be used to sell the product as a vendor is required to be present to verify the age of the purchaser.

The Attorney explained that no candy or toy imitating a cigarette should be on sale as she asked the representatives from the GRA and GNBS to ensure that these items do not find themselves on the local market.

Asked whether persons are aware of these new prohibitions, the Chief Medical Officer and Chair of the Commission said some sensitization was done since the act was passed but the council having now been formulated will increase its efforts.

The Tobacco industry was required to be in compliance with the new packaging and other requirements included in the Act by January 25, 2019, and it was disclosed that they have started complying.

The body representing the Tobacco industry, Demtoco (Demerara Tobacco Co. Ltd.) had signalled its intention to comply with the Act but raised concerns about a decrease in profits as the Act also restricts advertising tobacco brands, promoting products and sponsoring events of any kind.

Further, the public display of tobacco products for commercial use is also prohibited. Persons who breach this section of the law can face up to twelve months in prison or made to pay $9M.

There are other fines attached to the other requirements ranging from $10,000 to above $400,000.

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