Proposals made for Tobacco Bill to limit public sector/business linksFriday, April 09, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
PROPOSED limitations on interaction between public bodies/personnel and tobacco products companies raised temperatures at yesterday's meeting of a joint select committee reviewing smoking regulations.
The limitations included in Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”
Opposition spokesman on health Dr Morais Guy questioned if Article 5.3, which specifically relates to health officials, was mandatory and whether it infringed on the constitutional rights of the public servants and bodies which it will affect.
Albert Edwards, legal consultant at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, confirmed that the guidelines relating to the article would be applicable to all Government officials, when instituted, whether at the national, state, provincial, municipal, local of any other level of the public service which handles health issues.
“Any Government branch responsible for setting or implementing tobacco control policies would be subject to the guidelines in relation to restrictions on interaction and investment in the tobacco industry,” he explained.
“The principle being that there is an irreconcilable conflict from the perspective of those who are seeking to control the use of tobacco. There is an irreconcilable conflict: That is the philosophy, that is the policy underlying these controls,” Edwards told the committee.
He said that while there will be the need for interaction between the public bodies and public officials involved with public health matters and the industry, there should be accountability and transparency in terms of that relationship.
“So, in other words, there should not be any secret meetings and secret deals. Everything should be above board,” Edwards noted.
But, Dr Guy said that as much as he understood what the controls from the FCTC are saying and, as a medical doctor, the dangers of smoking and its impact on the health and economy of the country, Government had to decide it it wanted to accept these particular guidelines from the WHO.
“Because it is going to be one that create lot of challenges for members of the legislature, who have interests elsewhere,” the Opposition spokesman pointed out, after questioning whether it was mandatory for Jamaica.
“I don't have, and I am the first up front declaring that I have no interests in the tobacco industry. But, there are others who do and others who may have, and my concern is [whether] there would be an intrusion on the rights of those individuals to have such a legislation being enacted?” he asked.
Edwards admitted that the controls were, indeed, intrusive. But, he added that they were deliberately so, especially in relation to public officials and public agencies who have direct responsibility for matters of policy in relations to health, and more specifically to public health.
“It is a direct restriction, prohibiting control, because of the fact that if allowance is given for interaction at certain levels between such officials and industry players there is the possibility of compromise, in terms of policy development, in terms of enforcement and in terms of administration,” Edwards insisted.
Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte felt that some tough decisions would have to be made to adhere the rules.
“I think that as lawmakers, we are going to be called upon to make tough calls. It is not always easy. We have to balance competing interests and so, especially in the area of public health, sometimes it is just difficult,” she said.
She also said that she felt “there is almost an obligation to ensure that we present healthy choices to our people”. She added that it was unclear to her why public officials would encourage the consumption of a product that is going to be lethal and deadly to people.
Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, said that there was a fundamental difference between the health industry and others and in dealing with tobacco it was very clear that its consumption is a danger to public health, “in almost every possible way”.
“Í think it is important that the legislation recognises and advocates that reality. So that consumers are kept informed, and indeed discourage any activity that could send mixed signals about the harmful effects. I think that's what this aspect of the legislation is intending to achieve,” he stated.
The Tobacco Control Bill, drafted by the Jamaican Government in 2020, will provide a comprehensive legislation that restricting all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The Bill also seeks to strengthen the Government's ability to protect the health of Jamaicans, ensure citizens have all the relevant information to make decisions and reduce citizen's exposure to second-hand smoke.
It will also protect people from enticement to use tobacco products, protect children and promote dissemination of information about the addictive effects of tobacco use. The Bill is also intended to address gaps in the current legal framework, and is seeking to make Jamaica fully compliant with the WHO's Framework on Tobacco Control.