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T&T tightens regulations on sale of tobacco products

Thursday, December 12, 2013    

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Trinidad and Tobago government is moving to further tighten regulations regarding the sale of tobacco amid concerns by at least one cigarette company that the new measures were beyond its capabilities.

Health Minister Fuad Khan, who piloted the Tobacco Control Bill, told the Senate that the regulation provided for the mandatory labelling requirements for cigarette packaging in the twin-island republic.

He said the health messages and warnings were important in decreasing the attractiveness of smoking and that the new regulations would require all health messages to be printed on the carton and not on the packaging.

"It serves to ensure that the user is always in a position to see the health messages," Khan said, adding that because warnings with pictures were more effective than warnings with just a text in increasing the motivation to quit smoking, graphic pictures would seek to give smokers a visual image of the effects on smoking on the body.

"The disease showed in Schedule 1 (of the regulations) range from cancer to gangrene and there are images of the effect on children who suffer the most because of the poor choices of adult," he said.

Khan said the regulations provide that the warnings on the dangers of tobacco use would be placed on the lower half of the front and back panels of the pack and must be placed in such a way that the message would not be damaged when the pack is opened.

"It must cover half of the principal display area," he said, adding that cigarette dispensers must also display the health messages.

Khan, a medical practitioner, said cancer as a result of smoking killed six million annually and placed a major strain on the health care costs.

He told legislators that smoking a single cigarette results in 250 toxic compounds entering the body and when these substances were released into the atmosphere, they affected non-smokers.

He said smoking could cause damage to the lungs, the blood vessels, the heart, the eyes, the kidneys and other parts of the body.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said the West Indian Tobacco Company (WITCO) had written to the health minister indicating that some of the regulations proposed in the new legislation were ultra vires (beyond the capability of the company).

Ramlogan said some of WITCO's concerns were being repeated in the Senate, by coincidence and that those concerns may have been influenced by the anti-tobacco lobby.

Ramlogan said it was highly unlikely any tobacco company would voluntarily wish to place a warning on their product and that allowing companies to place their own messages might also work against the legislation.

Ramlogan quoted from an article by The Economist magazine that ranked Trinidad and Tobago in the top 10 tobacco consumers in the world, and said the country had a culture of allowing children to make contact with tobacco.

He said the social cost of a high-smoking population also results in low productivity and that while profits for WITCO were increasing, more and more Trinidadians were being killed as a result of cigarette smoking.

Ramlogan said that in 2008, the company had a before tax profit of TT$282 million (One TT dollar = US$0.16 cents) that increased steadily, reaching TT$350 million in 2009, TT$372 million in 2010, TT$402 million in 2011 and a record TT$476 million last year,.

The attorney general said the tobacco industry was "very clever" and had become involved in every aspect of life, sport and culture.

"We have to balance the rights of the citizens and young people against the rights of the tobacco manufacturer, whose sole aim must be to maximise profits," Ramlogan said, adding that the Government was also obligated to international treaties on tobacco control.

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