No moves to shutdown hookah bars or target importers – Health Minister

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Local health authorities continue to lament the use of tobacco products, whether they are cigarettes or hookahs, but Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony says that the ministry does not intend to penalize those who import and sell the largely unregulated products.

The Health Minister acknowledged that Guyana has made some gains in limiting the use of tobacco even though 12 per cent of the adult population still engages in traditional smoking.

While focus has been directed on cutting down the number of people engaged in traditional smoking, Dr. Anthony acknowledged concerns about the unregulated use of modern tobacco products like hookahs and e-cigarettes.

Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony.

As such, he told reporters on Tuesday that the ministry aims to increase public awareness of the dangers of smoking tobacco generally.

When asked if the ministry would consider shutting down hookah bars, which operate in contravention of Guyana’s Tobacco Control Act of 2017, the Health Minister said that move is not part of the current plan.

“The law that was passed in 2017 allows for us to do a lot of things, but we would prefer to start with education.

“… Having done that, then we would move to the other stage if we aren’t seeing the kind of change that we want to see,” the Health Minister said at the sidelines of an event on Tuesday.

The Tobacco Control Act 2017 outlines a raft of measures meant to keep the public safe from tobacco but Former Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said that the unregulated sale and use of these tobacco products, particularly hookah and e-cigarettes, has presented a growing danger to the public.

In a statement released on Saturday, Dr. Ramsammy lamented the adverse health impact of smoking tobacco and tobacco products, emphasising that the use of either the e-cigarette or hookah is not a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco products.

Though Guyana has made strides in limiting the use of this product, including prohibiting smoking in public places and requiring warning labels on packages, Dr. Ramsammy highlighted that the use and sale of cigarette alternatives presents a challenge that authorities must arrest.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony was also asked about moves towards legalising small quantities of marijuana and whether that contradicts the ministry’s emphasis on “no smoking.”

“I think the two things are different.

“We know the dangers of this and that is why we have to work to reduce this. In terms of marijuana, you have to look at that in legal terms,” he said.

And the Health Minister explained that people who smoke small quantities of marijuana should not be imprisoned but should be offered rehabilitation.

A bill to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act that would allow small quantities of marijuana has been sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee for further consultation.

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