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Smouldering dispute

Tobacco coalition urges health ministry to ignore warnings from Carreras

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Days after Carreras Limited, Jamaica's sole licensed distributor of cigarettes, warned that pending tobacco regulations being planned by the Ministry of Health and Wellness could seriously affect the legal cigarette trade, the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control (JCTC) is urging the ministry to push ahead with its proposals.

According to the JCTC, it fully supports the ministry's plan to enact stiffer tobacco control legislation in Jamaica.

“Comprehensive legislation will, among other things, prohibit all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, sales of tobacco products to minors, and increase taxes on tobacco products, all of which will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the entire population,” said the JCTC as it dismissed the warning from Carreras.

“This important legislation will protect Jamaicans, and in particular young people, from the harmful effects of tobacco. Tobacco use is the only risk factor common to the four main non-communicable diseases (NCDs) chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes,” argued the JCTC.

It pointed to the Pan American Health Organization Case for Investment in Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases in Jamaica, which stated that, by reducing NCDs, Jamaica could save more than 5,700 lives, avoid labour productivity losses of $47.3 billion, and save $29.8 billion in medical illness treatment costs.

“Comprehensive tobacco legislation is therefore imperative to protecting Jamaicans from the ravages of tobacco use and second-hand smoke,” added the JCTC.

The organisation further pointed to the 2017 Global Youth Tobacco Survey which showed that more than 15 per cent of Jamaican students, 13 to 15 years old, use tobacco products and more than 30 per cent of students in that age group had been exposed to tobacco advertisements or promotions at points of sale.

“Tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship encourage and influence youth to experiment with tobacco products and initiate regular use.

“The recent proliferation of billboards advertising tobacco products demonstrates a need for comprehensive legislation that will prohibit all forms of tobacco advertising promotion and sponsorship, as voluntary self-regulation is a well-known tobacco industry pre-emptive tactic designed to weaken, impede or defeat tobacco control efforts,” charged the JCTC.

It argued that increasing cigarette prices is the most effective measure for reducing tobacco use among both young people and adults.

“An increase in tobacco taxes means that Jamaicans who might otherwise spend their discretionary income on cigarettes could spend those funds on other products which are subject to taxes, thereby mobilising additional revenue for the Government,” said the JCTC.

In an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week, managing director of Carreras Marcus Steele argued that while Carreras has no problem with regulations in general, it is insisting that any further regulations for the industry must be reasonable, sensible and practical.

“We continue to implore the Government on the need for balanced and practical regulations that meet the national health objective, while recognising the legitimate commercial right of the legal tobacco industry to market and distribute its brands, as well as the decision taken by adult consumers to consume a legal product,” said Steele.

He argued that most of the areas which the health minister has indicated that the State intends to regulate are already covered under self-regulation.

“There may be the need for more regulations but not in the way it is currently being looked at, and that is something the authorities have to look at very carefully,” argued Steele.

Carreras has claimed that almost one-third of cigarettes sold in Jamaica are illicit, robbing the State of billions of dollars in revenue, and any new regulations which lead to increased prices of legitimate cigarettes could further fuel the black market where traders avoid the taxes.