MINISTER of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson bowed to increasing pressure from within and outside the ruling People's National Party (PNP), yesterday, agreeing to let Parliament review the ban on smoking he implemented on July 15.
Dr Ferguson, who up to over the weekend had been defiant that the ban would remain intact, told the House of Representatives that he had accepted the proposal from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to refer the regulations, which he finally tabled yesterday, to the Human Resource and Social Development Committee (HRSDC), which is chaired by his predecessor Rudyard Spencer.
Ferguson also announced that he would remove sections 3(3) and 8 of the regulations, which deal with the labelling of individual sticks of cigarette.
Some definitions under Section 2, including the definition of "public place", "enclosed space" and "work place" will be amended, and private residences or home and private conveyances such as vehicles that are not being used to provide services will be exempt from the requirements of public enclosed spaces or workplaces under the regulations, he said.
The minister also committed to reducing the very controversial fines specified in the regulations and consider the imposition of non-criminal sanctions, and pointed out that he was in discussions with the tourism industry on how to implement the regulations "in a practical way".
However, he said that the regulations will remain in place while he continues dialogue with the police and other groups and individuals.
He said that his ministry would continue to work with the police to ensure that there is an insistence on compliance, "but with sensitivity, care and the recognition that nicotine is addictive".
"During this period of consultations, I have had the assurance that there will be restraint on the part of the police," he said in response to the issues surrounding the arrests of persons smoking in public places, including entertainment venues.
But, Ferguson insisted that smoking would not be allowed in areas specifically used by children; nor in workplaces, including restaurants, bars and clubs, and that persons who choose to smoke in these venues must ensure that they do so away from the entrance, exit and ventilation intake of these establishments.
The minister also insisted that he would not endorse the establishment of smoking rooms in business places, and that smoking would not be allowed in sports, athletic and recreational facilities used by the public nor in places of collective use, such as bus tops.
"Compliance should be order of the day and the responsibility of every citizen," he said.
Opposition spokesman on Health, Dr Kenneth Baugh, welcomed the health minister's acceptance of the Opposition's proposals, including the suggestion to remove sections 3(3) and 8, as well as to refer the substantial issues to the HRSDC, which was the main proposal in Dr Baugh's motion.
However, Dr Baugh insisted that the only real remedy for the current smoking crisis would be for the minister to table a substantive Bill to address all the issues surrounding the use of tobacco, and including regulations agreed to by Parliament.
"That is the only way we can address all the issues," Baugh said.
Prior to Dr Ferguson's statement, Government members rejected a proposal from Leader of Opposition Business Delroy Chuck that the House should debate Dr Baugh's motion instead of making a statement.
The compromise was to allow both Baugh and Opposition colleague Everald Warmington to respond to the minister's statement, followed by usual questions and answers.