Notice too short to kick butt
THE EDITOR, Sir:
As one who has been a staunch campaigner against smoking in public spaces, I wish to congratulate Health Minister Fenton Ferguson, if even after missing a deadline he gave, for finally banning tobacco smoking in public.
After some eight years since ratification, Jamaica has finally taken a huge step towards fulfilling its obligations under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
As Minister Ferguson announced in his Sectoral Debate presentation on Tuesday, effective July 15, it will be an offence to smoke tobacco in certain prescribed public spaces. I am a bit concerned, though, about the short notice for the ban to come into effect.
The ban on tobacco smoking in public represents a significant behavioural shift on our part, given the prevalence of the practice for many moons. Despite my long-held desire to see to such a reality, we need somewhat of a grace period within which, at a minimum, offenders would be issued a mere warning.
PUBLIC EDUCATION CAMPAIGN
During such a grace period, there should be a public education campaign by the Health Ministry, the Heart Foundation, and anti-smoking lobby groups to better sensitise the public on this cultural shift.
The no-smoking signs must be distributed for erection in all such places within which smoking is prohibited and the appropriate information communicated to owners and operators of enclosed buildings to facilitate greater compliance.
With this initiative coming on stream, in a continued effort to realise a healthier nation, the health ministry must now turn its attention to discouraging certain foods that contribute to certain lifestyle diseases.
Accordingly, there must be a junk food or fat tax imposed on foods and beverages with high sugar content, saturated fat, and high sodium content. PATH beneficiaries should be restricted from purchasing such food items and their use should be banned in school-feeding programmes.
Some may argue that such a food tax would hurt especially the poor who rely heavily on such foods since such foods would become more expensive. While that may be true, such a move would result in improved health, reduced health-care expenses, and increased tax revenue that could be used to subsidise more healthy foods.
KEVIN K.O. SANGSTER