Non-smokers can now breathe easier as the Coalition Government has begun the implementation of the long-awaited ban on smoking in public places across Guyana.
Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence, by an order published in the Gazette, designated December 11, 2017 as the day on which the Tobacco Control Act came into force. The order was made on December 14, 2017.
On July 27, following a robust debate that lasted several hours, the National Assembly passed the Act with 32 Legislators offering support, one dissenting vote and 23 abstentions. In August 2017, the Tobacco Control Act became law after passage by the National Assembly and assent by the President.
The legislation provides for a maximum fine of $10,000 for a person who smokes in a place where smoking is prohibited. Where the person commits the offence a subsequent time, the maximum fine is $20,000. No imprisonment is prescribed for the offence.
According to the stipulations, the Act provides for a ban on smoking in indoor public places, indoor work places and public transportation, and only in specified outdoor places including the premises of schools and health facilities, and places for the commercial service of food and drinks.
The Tobacco Control Act regulates where persons can smoke tobacco products in order to protect others from exposure to dangerous secondhand smoke, but it does not ban smoking.
According to the Ministry, in order to facilitate the phased implementation of the Act and the publication of regulations under the Act, including those for ‘no smoking’ signs and packaging and labelling of tobacco products, the Minister published the commencement date for the Tobacco Control Act.
Initially, enforcement will focus on the tobacco industry. The Ministry is expected to meet with the tobacco industry in January 2018 to inform them of the implementation of the complete ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Once regulations for tobacco products’ packaging and labelling are passed, the tobacco industry will have nine months to comply with the regulations. The Ministry will inform the public as implementation of the various aspects of the law take effect.
The Ministry of Public Health in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has already started training implementing agencies in regard to implementation of the Act. The Ministry of Public Health staff are being trained to take the sensitisation to the business community including vendors, and the public at large.
Beginning next month, the nation will see the roll out of an aggressive education and awareness campaign, and by late 2018, tobacco product packages will bear graphic health warnings which inform consumers about the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Enforcement of no smoking laws in places where smoking is prohibited will not be implemented until the publication of ‘no-smoking’ signs regulations and sensitisation with the business community so that they understand their role with regard to compliance.
Lawrence noted recently, that some 57 percent of Guyanese adults suffer from some kind of the main NCDs and of these “approximately 70 percent” of people between the ages of 35 and 60 die annually from either heart disease or hypertension, diabetes, cancers or chronic lung disease.
Implementation of tobacco control measures will significantly reduce the number of lives affected by death, disease and disability caused by the tobacco epidemic.
The Bill was opposed in some sections of the business community, including the Demerara Tobacco Company (DEMTOCO). Some have argued that the legislation will result in the reduction of revenue for Government.
The Ministry has repeatedly argued that that the Bill does not ban smoking, but rather, regulates where persons can smoke tobacco products in order to protect others from exposure to dangerous secondhand smoke.
Guyana has joined its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) sister countries, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and Suriname by passing tobacco control legislation to safeguard the health of present and future generations from the devastating health and socio-economic effects of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.
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