Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Garth Rattray | What happened to anti-smoking?

Published:Monday | July 11, 2016 | 7:00 AM
Cigarette
Health Minister Christopher Tufton.
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I noted the minister of health, Christopher Tufton, performing his due diligence regarding our various public health maladies. However, Jamaica's anti-smoking legislation has been inexplicably languishing, static, frozen in time since July 2013, when tobacco-control regulations were enacted.

The online copy of Minister Tufton's Sectoral Debate presentation, delivered in Gordon House on June 29, 2016, was titled 'Investing in the future: Improving communities, impacting lives'. The health minister spoke to the increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and lamented that they are the biggest threat to our health sector and economy.

Perhaps he was pressed for time, but observers reported that the minister mentioned tobacco once and omitted Page 6 of his presentation during his Gordon House speech. He was supposed to speak of tobacco use far more fulsomely as a major contributor to NCDs. He was to speak of the 2013 Secondary School Survey showing that almost 30 per cent of students reported smoking cigarettes at some time.

Minister Tufton was to tell the nation that, "The Global Youth Tobacco Survey, conducted by the National Council on Drug Abuse, showed that the percentage of children who reported needing to smoke first thing in the morning increased from 5.9 per cent in 2006 to 13.4 per cent in 2010." He was to report that some of our youth are "... seriously dependent on nicotine and are likely to suffer from associated health challenges later in life".

There were other smoking-related matters that needed mentioning, not the least of which was that "... the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations, 2013 was a good start. However, we will now have to focus on increasing public education and enforcement of the regulations, especially in business establishments". He was to tell us, "Jamaica is still not compliant with the requirements of the FCTC and we must now take an all-of-Government approach to looking at the need to establish comprehensive tobacco legislation."

Jamaica signed on to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on October 5, 2005. We have been compliant in some areas but horribly lackadaisical in several other crucial ones. Jamaica has a strict ban on smoking in indoor public places and restrictions on outdoor smoking. As far as tobacco packaging and labelling are concerned, we have rotating graphic health warnings covering 60 per cent of the front and back of packaging. It used to be 75 per cent, but a 2014 amendment reduced it significantly. Terms like 'light' and 'low tar' are prohibited.

 

VOLUNTARY SELF-REGULATION

 

There are no specific laws addressing tobacco advertising, promotion or sponsorship. However, certain other legislation speaks to the means of advertising on domestic television, radio and restrictions on outdoor ads. Otherwise, tobacco sponsorship remains unrestricted.

There was a voluntary self-regulation and voluntary marketing code agreement regarding the cessation of outdoor tobacco advertising and tobacco-related websites, but I note the large, rotating tobacco company sign displayed on Hagley Park Road and I'm told of billboards elsewhere that advertise cigarettes. Voluntary self-restrictions are often self-rescinded.

Cigarettes contain the dangerous and highly addictive gateway drug nicotine. Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals - 43 are carcinogens and 400 are toxins, including formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, and DDT.

Cigarette smoke contains certain chemicals to provide a nicotine kick. Of those who smoke cigarettes and use cocaine, 45 per cent report that the urge to smoke a cigarette is stronger than the urge for cocaine. Cigarettes put users at very high risk for chronic obstructive airway disease, several cancers (upper and lower airway, upper and lower gastrointestinal tract and even cervical cancer) and widespread cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular diseases).

Smoking is especially devastating to young people over the short, medium and long term. It robs them of their health at an early age and converts them into lifetime addicts who end up with NCDs. According to studies done in the USA, nearly 80 per cent of all adult smokers began smoking by age 18. We know that children under 18 are buying tobacco products, so we need to see to the enforcement of the 2004 Child Care and Protection Act to protect them.

Please, Minister Tufton, re-engage the deadly cigarette with some alacrity. God only knows how many young and old citizens we have committed to major health problems because of that three-year hiatus.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.