SMOKERS unable to resist the urge for a few puffs in public spaces will, starting on July 15, find themselves in breach of a new regulation which carries heavy penalties.
Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson yesterday trumpeted in the House of Representatives the long-talked-about ban on smoking in what he termed "specified areas", and sought to revive memories of former Prime Minister Michael Manley who repeatedly used the phrase "for the first time at last", for dramatic effect in an address to the annual conference of the ruling People's National Party in the 1970s.
"For the first time at last, the people of Jamaica will have a smoke-free environment in specified areas," Ferguson said in his contribution to the Sectoral Debate.
"Mr Speaker, come July 15, no longer will our workers and children have to involuntarily inhale tobacco smoke, with its over 40 carcinogens," Ferguson said.
The Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations, 2013 will affect:
* All enclosed places;
* Public transportation;
* Government-owned and occupied buildings;
* Health facilities, including pharmacies;
* Public sports, athletic and recreational facilities;
* Educational institutions;
* Areas specified for use by children; and
* Places for collective use such as bus stops.
Failure to comply will result, in the first instance, in a fine not exceeding $50,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than three months, or both.
In the second instance, fines will be not more than $500,000 or six months behind bars. Subsequent to that, a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months will take effect.
For corporate bodies such as nightclubs, the failure to comply will attract fines not exceeding $1 million.
In accordance with the ban, the minister said establishments will have six months within which to post 'No smoking' signs, and tobacco products will carry large, graphic health warnings instead of the text only warnings currently used.
He referenced data collected by the National Council on Drug Abuse which showed that 40 per cent of youth aged 13-15 had smoked at least once, with over 19 per cent of those who have ever smoked starting under the age of 10.
"Mr Speaker, at this age, our children are vulnerable. They cannot make life-altering decisions for themselves," he said.
The ban, he argued, will reduce the number of children who begin smoking and increase the number of people who quit the habit. It is also expected to have an impact on reducing the incidence of non-communicable diseases by 25 per cent by 2025.
"In addition, Mr Speaker," Ferguson said, "the regulations include requirements for tobacco product disclosures which will enhance the Government's capacity to monitor the extent of the tobacco epidemic and produce the data needed to inform further tobacco control measures."
Jamaica signed the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003 and ratified it in 2005. The treaty aims to reduce the demand for and consumption of tobacco, which is said to claim almost six million lives each year, in addition to being a primary causal factor for a range of cancers and other non-communicable diseases such as respiratory and cardiac illnesses.
In response to the announcement, tobacco distributor Carreras Ltd issued a statement in which it said appreciated the introduction of the measures.
"The company wishes to advise that it appreciates the necessity of the Government towards introducing these measures, as indeed mounting pressure had emerged, owing from years of inaction, following its signature of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003.
"Equally, the company wants to put on record its appreciation for the minister and the Government in the efforts within the announced regulations, to accommodate adult smokers by facilitating and giving outlet owners the right to designate suitable areas where smoking is permitted in their establishment. Indeed, this arrangement is what obtains in most other jurisdictions across the globe," Carreras said.
The company also used the opportunity to call for strong regulatory arrangements to disrupt the illegal tobacco trade, which, it argued, was more dangerous than the legal product it offers.
"The regulations announced today will really have no meaning if the estimated two billion sticks of illegal cigarettes continue to enter our ports and market," Carreras said.
Jamaica joins Trinidad and Barbados in instituting tobacco control regulations.