Aug 04, 2017 News
…but DEMTOCO continues to question Guyana’s ability to enforce strict anti-smoking regulations
By Kiana Wilburg
In spite of relentless criticisms, it appears that the Government will stand its ground when it comes to the rigid Tobacco Control Bill.
This is according to Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence. The Parliamentarian noted yesterday to members of the media that the Government is not keen on having the Bill sent to a special select committee as requested by some critics.
Lawrence said that the Government has all intentions of moving ahead with the Bill as it is in keeping with its promise to improve the quality of lives for all Guyanese.
While the Tobacco Control Bill awaits the President’s assent, Demerara Tobacco Company Limited (DEMTOCO) does not believe that the country has the resources necessary to truly enforce the Bill’s strict regulations in every “nook and cranny” of the country.
This is according to DEMTOCO’s Managing Director, Maurlain Kirton.
Kirton recently highlighted that DEMTOCO has several concerns regarding the Bill.
The first issue she raised was in relation to the definition of the term “workplace”, as defined in the Tobacco Control Bill.
According to the Bill, workplace means, “any place used by one or more persons during employment or work, whether done for compensation or as a volunteer and includes all attached or associated spaces commonly used during the course of work or incidentally, as well as work vehicles.”
In this regard, Kirton said that the Bill immediately infringes upon the privacy of all Guyanese.
She said, “Imagine if you hire any sort of help, be it a gardener, babysitter, or housekeeper, even your home may now be considered a workplace based on the prevailing definition. How can this possibly be policed? This definition is too wide, and now raises questions of enforceability.”
Additionally, Kirton said that public places, such as, private entities and workplaces should be allowed by law, to set up adequately designated smoking areas.
In this regard, she explained that factories, restaurants, bars, casinos, hotels, other workplaces or facilities that would be accessible to the public, should have such designated smoking areas that cater for both smokers and non-smokers alike. She said that this is the current practice in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad.
Kirton then turned her attention to the hawkers (persons selling tobacco products in trays) aspect of the Bill. The official noted that this type of trade has been around from time immemorial and is not unique to Guyana. In fact, Kirton pointed out that this type of activity currently exists throughout the region and the Tobacco Control Bill will now restrict the execution of this trade.
The Managing Director said that her company is of the belief that the government can in fact, regulate hawkers, but in a way that will allow them to continue their trade with a stricter way of operation.
Furthermore, the Tobacco Control Bill firmly restricts and limits the interaction between any official, representative, or employee of any Governmental institution or body responsible for tobacco control; and any representative from the tobacco industry.
Kirton said that this is an area of concern for DEMTOCO as the company believes that it is a key stakeholder of a legal product and should be consulted on any policies which are likely to affect the industry and the rights of individuals who chose to smoke.
Furthermore, Kirton said that her company took issue with the fact that the Bill states that the government will not hire or engage any person to work or serve in any capacity with responsibility for tobacco control, where that person has or had a conflict during a preceding five year period.
Additionally, Clause 44 (lA) of the Tobacco Control Bill specifies that the ownership of shares is considered a conflict of interest with respect to the aforementioned restriction. In this regard, Kirton said that Demerara Tobacco Company’s one thousand plus shareholders in addition to the 3800 plus persons in the Tobacco industry would be restricted.
With the aforementioned in mind, Kirton told members of the media that her company is of the opinion that Guyana does not have the resources to enforce every aspect of the Bill.
She said, “Do we have the resources to get into all the nooks and crannies in this country to ensure that the entire bill is enforceable? Do we have that manpower to ensure every retailer and consumer is abiding by the law? We know from our point of view that it is not possible…”
Kirton says that the company is confident that the Government has the capacity and capability to effectively evaluate the pros and cons of different views from various stakeholder groups.
From conventional wisdom, the official opined that it would be regulatory best practice to allow all affected stakeholders to participate in the policy making process, inclusive of the Tobacco Industry and by extension, persons who choose to smoke.
Additionally, the Managing Director said that her company has been trying to deal with another evil of the sector, which is illicit trade.
“We have been saying to the government that there is a piece of the pie out there that you are not getting anything on. And illicit trade accounts for 15 percent of consumption in Guyana,” expressed Kirton.
When the Bill becomes law, DEMTOCO predicts that illicit trade will worsen.
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