Responding to big tobacco’s scare tactics

Dr. Christopher Tufton

Gleaner Archive – September 4, 2022

The Jamaican Parliament is right now deliberating, in a joint select committee, comprehensive tobacco control laws for our country. We are in the final stages of that process. Once enacted, these laws will protect Jamaicans from the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and exposure to cigarette smoke. It will also serve as a step towards Jamaicans realising their right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable health, a right provided for in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. The bill is also in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which 180 countries, including Jamaica, have ratified.

There is a broad consensus, nationally and globally, that tobacco has dangerous health as well as social, economic, and environmental consequences, and must therefore be regulated in a more effective manner through comprehensive legislation. Jamaica’s Tobacco Control Bill focuses on prohibiting and restricting advertising and promotion of tobacco products, preventing the use of tobacco by children, and enhancing the public’s awareness of the hazards related to the use of tobacco products. The bill will also regulate novel tobacco products, including nicotine devices and heated tobacco products. Research has shown that these contain harmful substances, including nicotine, heavy metals such as lead, volatile organic compounds, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde. These can cause lung disease, cardiovascular (heart) disease, and cancer.

CLARIFYING ISSUES

This Tobacco Control Bill does not, as suggested by the Carreras company, the leading marketer and distributor of cigarettes and tobacco-related products in Jamaica, in its annual report, speak to any prohibition on government investment in the tobacco industry. To suggest, as Carreras has, that the National Insurance Fund (NIF) will suffer from this decision is misleading. The NIF is funded by Jamaicans’ national insurance contributions, and is the source from which pensions and other benefits are disbursed under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS). The contributions are invested, in search of the highest returns, including in private capital and equity markets. The incorrect assertion by Carreras is best understood as a component of a campaign of scare tactics to discourage government regulation of the industry.

This is a known strategy, and all Jamaicans should be aware of how tobacco companies operate when faced with perceived threats to their enterprise. The current legislation does not affect current investments in tobacco interests, or any other sector, by any organisation. With regard to how individual citizens choose to invest their own money, there is no intention to deny anyone their right to choose to invest in any company of their choice. Rather, the aim is to discourage intentional promotion of tobacco interests in public policy. There has been no decision from the joint select committee on the matter of investments in the industry by public sector employees.

The suggestion by Carreras that the bill contains disproportionate and unconstitutional elements is also false. It has been said before, but bears repeating, that the bill does not treat tobacco as an illegal product. It does seek to regulate the industry in ways that protect Jamaicans’ health and well-being. This is a fundamental responsibility of a government, and is our foremost concern right now.

The Government does not, as Carreras is suggesting, intend to ban the sale of tobacco products in all public places. Again, this is “big tobacco” engaging in scare tactics. We have stated before, and the committee has made it clear, that there was never any intention to restrict the sale of tobacco in public places and the legislation will reflect that. Provisions are made in the bill for places where the sale of tobacco and relevant products is prohibited, but this does not include bars and community shops. Places where the sale of tobacco is restricted include facilities where healthcare services are provided, sports, athletic, or similar facilities, and educational and childcare facilities.

DANGERS OF TOBACCO

As noted by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, scientific evidence has shown beyond a doubt that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke cause death, disease, and disability. Furthermore, there is a time lag between the exposure to smoking and the other uses of tobacco products and the onset of tobacco-related diseases. Cigarettes and other products containing tobacco are highly addictive and the compound smoke they produce are carcinogenic and toxic. It is no surprise, therefore, that tobacco dependence is classified as a disorder in major international classifications of diseases.

STATISTICS TELL CLEAR STORY

Tobacco kills more than eight million people annually and is a leading cause of death and disability. More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers’ exposure to second-hand smoke. Tobacco is a major risk factor for stroke, the leading cause of death in Jamaica. Some 27 per cent of stroke victims in Jamaica are smokers, and tobacco is also responsible for over 20 per cent of stroke deaths in adults 30 years and older. Tobacco is responsible for up to 90 per cent of lung cancer cases, 11 per cent of all non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and six per cent of cardiovascular deaths in Jamaica. The Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2017 showed that 16 per cent of Jamaican students used tobacco products. The survey also showed that 66 per cent of students 13-15 years old reported that people smoked in their presence on one or more days.

ECONOMIC COSTS

The total economic cost of tobacco in the region of the Americas is 2.4 per cent of GDP, with 6.7 per cent of total health expenditures being related to smoking-attributable diseases. Related health expenditures can be estimated at J$8.2 billion (US$64 million). The benefits of scaling up selected tobacco control interventions, as shown by the Jamaica Investment Case for Prevention and Control of NCDs (2017), significantly outweigh the costs. For every dollar invested in NCD prevention, Jamaica can expect a minimum of J$5.30 in return. Of all the interventions regarding NCDs, those related to tobacco control secure the highest return on investments.

Let us be clear: while smoking remains a personal choice allowed under Jamaican law, it is one of the most dangerous life-threatening and debilitating practices to both the direct user as well as to those indirectly exposed. This is indisputable. The bill provides a balanced way of dealing with tobacco, weighing the costs and benefits of cigarette smoking to the public. We cannot as a country and as a government focus solely on the impact on the tobacco industry’s revenues. We have a responsibility to protect Jamaicans from the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco and the bill sets out to achieve this essential duty.


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