Dr Ramsammy aspires to introduce tobacco legislation
By Fareeza Haniff
As the Demerara Tobacco Company (Demtocco) in Guyana is reporting an increase in its profits, this is expected to come under great control. Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy, aspires to introduce tobacco legislation in 2010.
The Health Minister made this revelation during a tobacco seminar held for journalists yesterday at the Herdmanston Lodge.
However, Dr. Ramsammy said that in order for this legislation to be introduced, the government needs the support of all stakeholders.
“There has to be an overwhelming advocacy in our country for this because part of it is already there. Taxation is there, so we don’t need a law for that.”
If the law is to be introduced next year, it would restrict the advertisement of any tobacco products in Guyana, whether it is on TV, radio, newspapers, billboards and posters.
“No one can encourage or permit the advertisement of a killer. This is a killer and we must not permit it to happen. I find it most appalling that educated people cannot see the ulterior motives of the marketers and the producers when they make beautiful posters with beautiful adults smoking and state that children should not smoke,” Minister Ramsammy said.
The legislation will also restrict tobacco marketing companies and manufacturers from sponsoring any kind of event.
Importantly, it will also regulate where people can smoke. “No place where the public gathers should be a place where smoking is permitted.”
According to the Health Minister, the law will also restrict children under the age of 18 from smoking and they should not be able to procure tobacco products.
He explained that penalties will be not only for those who attempt but for the adults who sell it (cigarettes) to children. Meanwhile, if a child buys or attempts to buy the product on behalf of an adult, the adult will be punished.
Additionally, Minister Ramsammy noted that the sale of tobacco has increased along with the profits over the years. In the Caribbean, profits by tobacco companies in the last ten years have increased between 600 and 1200 per cent.
Although tobacco is such a dangerous substance, at least 11 per cent of children in Guyana are regular smokers and at least 20 per cent of them began smoking before they were 10 years old.
According to the Health Minister, out of a total of 163 countries defined by the IMF, 66 of them as middle or low income countries have either legislation or polices that regulate the sales, marketing and use of tobacco.
This means that close to 100 countries in the world have no rules when it comes to the regulation and control of tobacco control and sales. In Guyana’s laws and in many of the Caribbean and developing countries, there is no law that would stop a child from buying tobacco.
Dr. Ramsammy explained that Guyana has an old Poisons and Therapeutics ordinance law which states that children cannot be sold hazardous materials. But Dr. Ramsammy said that with the kind of lawyers in Guyana, persons can never be prosecuted under that law, since some of the hazardous products are identified.
In the Caribbean, outside of Suriname, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad, no other country has laws relating to tobacco, unless it’s about taxation. But even the taxation laws have some regression since Belize, which had fairly high taxes over tobacco over the last year has lowered the taxes.
Guyana as well has some of the highest taxes on tobacco. The CET is 100 per cent.
According to Minister Ramsammy, the CET is supposed to be applied in addition to the import taxes as well.
While Guyana has no law as yet to control the use of tobacco in the country, there is an agreement as it relates to Standards on Labeling and Packaging of the product as 50 per cent of each cigarette packet surface will be labeled with picture messages, displaying the harmful effects of smoking and discouraging people from committing such an act.