'You can't regulate how I enjoy myself'

Smokers say ban infringing their personal liberty

Friday, June 28, 2013

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SOME smokers are fuming at Government's announced ban on smoking in public places, arguing that it infringes their personal liberty to recreate and enjoy themselves as they see fit.

Further, they charge that to make offences under the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations criminal borders on tyranny. The regulations were announced in Parliament on Tuesday and become effective on July 15. They carry penalties of fines ranging from $50,000 to $1 million as well as prison terms from three months to a year.

The Jamaica Observer spoke with three heavy smokers from Corporate Jamaica on Wednesday who opted to not have their names disclosed. One smokes three 20-packs of cigarettes a day, the other says he is down to eight sticks a day, while the third says he is between eight and 10 sticks on a normal day, but up to 20 when partying. They all picked up the habit in their teenage years.

"I think my rights are being infringed on," the first told the Jamaica Observer.

"I think the Government is misled and ill-advised in respect to the ban. To limit smoking in public spaces is fine, but to levy penalties and make it a criminal offence is taking it a bit too far," he added.

The second smoker shared the view that Government is overreaching in its approach.

"I think it is a misguided, totally skewed approach. Either you ban cigarettes altogether, which would be a further infringement of people's rights, but to hold people criminally liable for smoking in public spaces smacks of arrogance," he said.

"You cannot legislate how I enjoy myself," he argued, adding that the move "will give corrupt police another avenue to rip people off".

Regarding the much-touted dangers of smoking and the links with non-communicable diseases, the second smoker said he was wary of the association.

"I don't know how scientific that data is because most of the people I know who have died from cancer never smoked a day in their lives. They (medical experts and anti-tobacco lobbyists) will argue that it's second-hand smoke. I don't know. They don't know either," he said.

The third man, on the other hand, said he welcomed the Government-imposed ban and appreciated it insofar as protecting non-smokers.

"I've been smoking since I was 16 and I'm now 46, that's 30 years and I believe that smoking is my choice and in doing so, I shouldn't harm anybody or sully anybody's air.

"If I choose to destroy my lungs I shouldn't harm anyone?"

"I don't smoke in my house and I travel a lot and know that smoking in enclosed spaces is a no-no ,so I welcome the ban."

They agree, though, that it won't have any effect on reducing the number of those who light up, as smokers will simply divert to areas where they can smoke.

Tobacco distributors Carreras, meanwhile, have urged Government to publish the regulations in order that interest groups and the wider public can be informed. In announcing the new measure, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson said he would have provided details at yesterday's post-Cabinet meeting, but he revealed that the regulations have not yet been gazetted and so are not yet available for public scrutiny.

"We're a little disappointed about the order in which the ban has been rolled out in terms of the grand announcement, yet nobody can see the regulations to peruse them," the company's corporate and regulatory affairs manager Christopher Brown told the Observer yesterday.

"We are urging the minister and the ministry to move quickly with the publication so that everyone can see and know what it means as to where exactly they can and can't smoke, [etc]," he said.

At the post-Cabinet meeting, Ferguson, reiterated that the smoking ban is expected to reduce the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the island and cited the example of the Republic of Ireland, which on March 29, 2004, became the first country in the world to implement national anti-smoking legislation.

"In the three years immediately following the smoking ban, there was 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 prevented almost 4,000 deaths," Dr Ferguson said of the British country.

"No other risk factor for non-communicable diseases can compare to the ill effects of tobacco use affecting both our adult population and our children. 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. I know we may get a fight from those with financial interest and whose power comes from the sale and distribution of tobacco, but I will not be dissuaded," he said.




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