MINISTER of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson has called on citizens to get familiar with the new Regulations barring tobacco smoking in public places, to ensure that their right to a smoke-free environment is obeyed.
"The citizens of Jamaica must be the police of these Regulations, not just the formal police force. My intention is not to lock up anybody, or for anyone to go to prison because of cigarette smoking. What we want to do is to raise the consciousness of our people through consistent public education about tobacco use, so that people will recognise and become empowered in relation to the evils of tobacco smoking," the minister emphasised.
He was speaking at a contract signing ceremony for expansion of the Haemodialysis Unit at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, in Montego Bay, last Friday.
"Even as I will be making some concessions relative to the fines and the removal of custodial sentence, we don't want to make any criminals out of smokers. What we want to do is to send a stern signal to people that we are serious about these regulations," the minister said.
"When someone smokes in your presence, in a no-smoking area, you must have the courage to say 'this is a no-smoking zone'. We don't intend to clog the court system, because we recognise that tobacco smoking is an addiction, and it is not easy to pull back, but we must protect our non-smokers, we must protect our children, and we must protect our workers," Dr Ferguson said.
The minister argued that when citizens continuously demand their right to a smoke-free public space, the Police, over time, will not have any need to prosecute people, as the regulations would be observed by the few who smoke.
Dr Ferguson said his firm stance and commitment against smoking in public places is to preserve the good of the public, even the smokers themselves.
For her part, Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, who is also member of Parliament for West Central St James, commended Dr Ferguson for his "courage to take the bull by its horns":
"There are more people with you, than are against you," she told the audience.