Owners, manager of public spaces face smoking ban prosecution too

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, June 27, 2013

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OWNERS and managers of certain establishments that allow smokers to light up on their premises will also face prosecution when the ban on smoking in public spaces comes into effect on July 15, the Ministry of Health says.


Sheryl Dennis, legal officer at the ministry, says the same penalties will be applied to owners, managers and lessees of premises where these breaches are allowed to happen.


"An onus is on the owners, managers, proprietors, lessees to ensure that there is no breach," she said.


Offenders, she explained, could be fined up to $50,000 or three months in prison for a first offence and up to $500,000 or six months in prison for a second breach.


"Bear in mind, it is on conviction in a resident magistrate's court and the judge also has the discretion of imposing both the fine as well as the sentencing term," Dennis told journalists at the weekly Jamaica House press briefing at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston yesterday.


She further explained that if there is a third conviction then that will be an automatic sentencing.


Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson — who announced the pending ban in Parliament on Tuesday — said he would not be daunted despite a fight from those with financial interest and those whose power comes from the sale and distribution of tobacco.


He told the press briefing that the ban is not an attack on stakeholders, but a pro-health solution.


"No other risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) can compare to the ill effects of tobacco use affecting both our adult population and our children," he said, adding that "if we are to meet the goal of reducing the prevalence of NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025, this ban on smoking in public spaces is important".


He cited the example of Northern Ireland where smoking in workplaces, including restaurants, pubs and bars, was banned in 2004. A recent study accessing the effect of this ban, according to Fenton, revealed a 13 per cent reduction in deaths from all causes; a 26 per cent reduction in deaths from ischemic heart disease; a 32 per cent reduction in deaths from stroke; and a 38 per cent reduction in deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Reductions in exposure to second-hand smoke, he said, prevented almost 4,000 deaths.


As for policing smoking in public places, Ferguson said some time has been allowed for the ban to take effect so as to prevent any room for misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the regulations.


"I don't believe we can police this thing or manage it by going on a kind of witch- hunt," Ferguson said. "We have to recognise that over time as the public information becomes more available and persons recognise that there is this ban... you are going to see less and less of this kind of wanton non-regard for our citizens by smokers."


According to Fenton, public education and counselling intervention will also be a critical component.


"It is not just coming with what might appear to some to be draconian, but it is making preparation for counselling centres that will help persons to desist from smoking and persons who have not started smoking... to understand that this tobacco smoking is a very serious risk factor," the minister said.


"So, it is not for us to be out there just hunting down persons or the police called in to hunt down. What you want is gentle persuasion and public education to get people to understand," he added.


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