Law must be just and fair
ALLEN... I have my own reservations with the proposal that persons in the public sector shall not invest in the tobacco industry

IT is generally accepted that laws are designed to be just, play a vital role in preventing anarchy, and assist people to live in comfort with the thought that their rights are protected.

“Law is order, and good law is good order,” the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is reported as saying.

We had reason to reflect on that view after last week’s sitting of the joint select committee reviewing the 2020 Tobacco Control Bill which proposes harsh punishment for public sector workers if they engage or invest in activities in the tobacco industry. Any breach, it is proposed, could attract fines of up to $1 million or three months in prison.

That section of the Bill, we believe, is taking us down the road of unjust punishment, which is counter to the value and purpose of law.

We note that Opposition Senator Ms Janice Allen, in her contribution to the committee’s deliberations, made it clear that she has reservations about the proposal that bars public servants from investing in the tobacco industry.

Senator Allen argued that if she has a portfolio on the stock market and got an opportunity to invest in the tobacco industry she should be able to do so, as long as it does not impact her daily job functions.

Likewise, Government Senator Mr Kavan Gayle felt the scope of people who could find themselves in trouble was too wide, and individuals could, in fact, unwittingly end up breaching the law.

Indeed, Senator Gayle highlighted the fact that when people engage the services of investment brokers, those brokers often decide where to apply their clients’ funds.

“It may happen that such funds be applied to that entity which is listed on the stock market — unknown [to the worker] — but he would be liable to the action taken where he would have invested in the tobacco industry, or any related ventures,” Senator Gayle said.

The opinions of senators Allen and Gayle are sound and the committee would do well to be guided by them.

We acknowledge the desire of the State to discourage tobacco use which, the World Health Organization (WHO) tells us, is responsible for more than eight million deaths globally each year. Additionally, WHO data show that more than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while approximately 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Here in Jamaica, at last check, the country was spending approximately US$170 million to treat noncommunicable diseases, many of which result from direct or second-hand exposure to tobacco smoke.

We are painfully aware that too many of our young people smoke, as reported in a Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in 2017 which found that 11.7 per cent of students aged 13-15 years use e-cigarettes, compared to 11.2 per cent who smoke tobacco-based cigarettes. Additionally, the survey found that 10 per cent of Jamaican youth begin smoking by age 11.

So, any effort to minimise such behaviour has our support.

The Bill proposes to prohibit public servants, including parliamentarians, from receiving direct or indirect financial contributions, or from accepting any proposals or offer of assistance from the tobacco industry. That’s a move we understand and support.

The committee, though, needs to ensure that all its proposals are just.

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