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Jamaicans must get tobacco conscious and secure their health — Ferguson

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The man who introduced the Tobacco Control Regulations Act wants Jamaicans to play a far more active role in preserving their health by resisting the use of tobacco.

Former Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson continues to argue that the use of tobacco posed so many health risks to Jamaicans, that it was in their best interest to prevent certain people from violating the regulation that guards against smoking in public places, and thereby reducing the nation’s healthcare bill.

"In my time as minister of health, after we had completed the amendments we did say that while we want the thing to be policed what we wanted more was citizen’s actions… people being aware of what was happening around them and being prepared to take a stance as far as the law is concerned.

"We really wanted to get citizens to recognise their rights under the regulation and we would be the ones saying to persons in the public space, ‘no smoking, you are violating my right as a citizen’, even as the police would have had the authority to pursue offenders.

"A looseness has developed and citizens need to insist that people stop violating the regulation. Our health care cannot be compromised any further. We spend far too much treating lung-related diseases than we need to," Dr Ferguson said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

Underscoring how dangerous tobacco use was, Dr Ferguson suggested that the leaders of the State must be called upon to get involved in making people more aware of how many risks the practice of smoking tobacco posed to the society.

He lamented that although Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton addressed the use of ganja in Parliament recently, he did not spend time reiterating the dangers of tobacco.

"Minister Tufton glossed over the issue of tobacco on health during his presentation in the Sectoral Debate. Although he spoke about ganja, tobacco in a real way is far more dangerous.

"If it doesn’t kill you immediately, over time it will kill you. The younger you start to smoke, the worse it is for you. And there are interesting youth surveys that have been done by the National Council on Drug Abuse and others that point to these facts.

"The longer you are smoking is the longer you are impacting your lungs and other organs. Any health minister is duty- bound to follow through with enforcement and also to deal with the conclusion," Dr Ferguson said.

Dr Tufton has promised the Sunday Observer to address issues related to the Tobacco Control Regulations Act.

In the meantime, Dr Ferguson insists that a public education programme needs to be in full swing if the people of Jamaica are to gain real benefits.

But he argued that it will also take more than that.

"I maintain that the police, along with the citizens, ought to know their rights and will also have to step up. Citizens have a choice whether to go and eat in places where smoking is taking place, or whether they go to drink or to do business anywhere that smoking is taking place, because they as non-smokers are exposing themselves to shorter lives. So if there is a message I want to give, it is one that is saying the citizens of the country would have to play a major role in this anti-tobacco regulation, even as the police will now have to make an example of some of those persons and companies that openly violate the regulations.

"Already we have seen a cut down in the number of admission of asthmatics in our public health institutions. Already, from almost the first year you see a cut back because of the clean air. If we can keep that up, in five to 10 years you’ll see less heart attacks, less strokes and in essence fewer persons with cardiovascular disease. That’s a big saving for any Government.

"So it is a sensible public health policy. Tobacco controlled regulation is one of the most far-reaching public health policy taken in Jamaica. In fact, with the issues of Chickv and the premature babies, even in the last election the People’s National Party failed to talk about the achievements of health," Dr Ferguson said.