Unregulated sale & use of hookahs, e-cigars a public danger – Dr. Ramsammy


Though Guyana’s Tobacco Control Act 2017 outlines a raft of measures meant to keep the public safe from tobacco, the largely unregulated sale and use of tobacco products, particularly hookah and e-cigarettes, has presented a growing danger to the public.

This is according to Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, the Chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

In a statement released on Saturday, Dr. Ramsammy lamented the adverse health impact of smoking tobacco. And though Guyana has made strides in limiting the use of this product, including prohibiting smoking in public places and requiring warning labels on packages, the former Health Minister highlighted that the use and sale of cigarette alternatives presents a challenge that authorities must arrest.

See below the full statement issued by Dr. Ramsammy:

This year is five years since the Tobacco Control Act 2017 was enacted in Guyana. As we observe the 5th anniversary of the Tobacco Control Act 2017 and as we observe World No Tobacco Day 2022, the Presidential Commission is disappointed that there continues to be weak implementation of the law in Guyana. We also are disappointed that global efforts to reduce the risk of tobacco use continues unabated.

The Commission during its 3rd and 4th meetings in March and May 2022 committed to intensify its effort
to lead the fight against tobacco and tobacco products use in Guyana.

We note that BIG TOBACCO, the consortium of tobacco companies around the world, have come together to find new ways to introduce tobacco and tobacco products to a new generation of people. One of their strategies is to add new tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and hookah products, to bypass regulations that try to restrict use of traditional cigarettes and cigars. The NCD Commission, therefore, highlight the need for urgent regulations of these products in Guyana.

The Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of the Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) wishes to alert Guyanese to the dangers of e-cigarette and hookah use. The use of both e-cigarettes and hookahs in Guyana started before the introduction of the Tobacco Control Act 2017 and has gained even more popularity since the passage of the Tobacco Control Act.

Advisor to the Ministry of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy (Photo: News Room/December 7, 2021)

The use of either the e-cigarette or hookah is not a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products. The Tobacco Act 2017 recognises that the alternatives the Tobacco Industry has provided do not represent a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products and, therefore, the regulations in the Tobacco Control Act 2017 equally applies to these

The Commission is concerned that both e-cigarettes and hookah products are imported, distributed and sold in shops, stores and street-side vendor stalls. This is in contravention of the Packaging and Labelling Regulations (2018) which were passed under the Tobacco Control Act 2017. Hookah has become an integral part of bars and restaurants around the country and hookah bars are now popping-up across the country at alarming rate. While the Commission recognizes the use of e-cigarettes in tobacco-cessation programs, the marketing of e-cigarettes by BIG TOBACCO as a healthy alternative to traditional tobacco is dangerous and misleading.

We would like to highlight to the authorities and to those who import, distribute and make such products available to the public, that laws of the  country must upheld. In particular, we remind the National Tobacco Control Council that Clauses 25 (2), 29, 30 and 33 requires that e-cigarette and hookah products must be properly packaged and labelled before they are permitted to enter Guyana and before they are allowed to be distributed and sold in the country. The Commission is of the view that none of the e-cigarette and hookah products being sold to the Guyanese public adhere to the clear definition and provisions of the Packaging and Labelling Regulations (2018) under the Tobacco Control Act 2017.

Under Section 25 (2) of the Packaging and Labelling Regulations (2018), hookah products must meet the same packaging and labelling requirements as traditional tobacco products. The truth is at this time,
hookah products imported, distributed and sold in Guyana, invariably, do no meet the packaging and labelling requirements. These products are seen displayed for sale on store shelves and can even be handled directly by the consumer prior to sale, a circumstance which is prohibited according to Section 29 of the regulations.

Additionally, these products are now being sold on the internet via various social media platforms with delivery services being offered in Guyana. This is in contradiction to Section 30 of the Regulations. While we recognize that some hookah products do not contain tobacco, these products are almost identical to the ones that do contain tobacco and, therefore, must adhere to the packaging and labeling requirements, as provided for by Section 33.

Hookah and e-cigarettes are among products defined as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). There are also electronic non-nicotine delivery systems known as ENNDS. Among the ENDS and ENNDS products are vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or e-cigs), e-cigars, and e-pipes. The ENDS products use an “e-liquid” that usually contains nicotine derived from tobacco, as well as flavorings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and other ingredients. The liquid is heated to create an aerosol that the user inhales. Many ENDS products are manufactured to look like conventional combusted cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some resemble pens or USB flash drives. Larger devices, such as tank systems or mods, bear little or no resemblance to cigarettes. These products may have reusable parts, or they may be disposable and only used once before they are thrown away. Similarly, ENNDS products are made to look like ENDS products.

The Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of NCDs emphasizes the truth – there are no safe tobacco products, whether traditional or in the category of ENDS or ENNDS products. In addition to
the risks of diseases, disabilities and death that traditional tobacco products impose on users, ENDS products also have been shown to have other dangers associated with them. These include over-heating,
fires and explosions, lung damage and seizures and other neurological symptom

Accumulating scientific evidence point to hookah smoking just as harmful as smoking cigars or cigarettes. But the use of hookahs in Guyana and  other countries are almost totally unregulated. In Guyana’s case, this unregulated environment for hookahs is wholly an oversight because the Tobacco Control Act 2017, together with its associated Packaging and Labeling Regulations 2018, require regulations of hookah importation, distribution and vendoring.

The Packaging and Labelling Regulations 2018 made in accordance with the Tobacco Control Act 2017 under which traditional tobacco products and ENDS are regulated in Gunyana are consistent with efforts in countries around the world. Presently more than 30 countries have banned ENDS products, more than 109 countries regulate the packaging and labeling of ENDS products, while more than 170 countries regulate traditional tobacco products.

While Guyana has made a quantum leap in enacting laws for regulating tobacco products which are among the most potent risk factors for NCDs, disabilities and death around the world, but Guyana has had a poor track record when it comes to enforcing the laws. Guyana is not unique in this regard. Most of the countries, particularly developing countries, have shown little to no willingness to effectively enforce the tobacco products regulations.

The Presidential Commission on the Prevention and Control of NCDs urges the relevant authorities to pay attention to the growing importation, distribution and use of ENDS and ENNDS, including e-cigarettes and hookahs and to enforce the Packaging and Labeling Regulations 2018 made in accordance with theTobacco Control Act 2017. We urge the National Tobacco Control Council to be more vigilant in working with relevant government agencies to ensure that the applicable Artiles in the Regulations are enforced.

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