Sun | May 29, 2016

Clearing the air on smoking ban

Published:Wednesday | July 3, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Dr André Haughton

There are less than two weeks to go before the new smoking ban takes effect in Jamaica. This ban will make it illegal to smoke tobacco products in public. The law might also include penalties for having any lit tobacco product in your possession in public. A smoking ban is a form of public policy that endorses good health and safety regulations.

Why ban tobacco smoking in public?

Every time the term 'smoking in public' is mentioned in economics, the word 'externality' comes to mind. If you participate in a particular activity or consume a particular product, and this has an impact on somebody else who did not wish to consume the product or participate in the activity, this is considered an externality. It basically occurs if your actions have an impact on somebody else.

Externalities can either be positive or negative depending on the action. For example, if a person has a beautiful garden at the front of their yard that the neighbours pass and admire each morning, if this beautiful garden helps to give the neighbour a good mood, this is considered positive externality. The neighbours did not plant the flowers nor did they have any intentions of smelling and seeing these flowers, but still they ended up doing so. In this case, the garden provides a positive externality to the community.

If, on the other hand, a person smokes tobacco in the presence of others and the second-hand smoke inhaled affects the health of those who did not wish to inhale any smoke in the first place, this is considered a negative externality. It has a negative impact on people who do not smoke. For this reason, to reduce the level of negative externality, smoking will be restricted to the confines of one's own private space where the second-hand smoke from the activity will have less effect on other people. Good government policy promotes positive externalities and demotes negative externalities.

What does 'public' mean?

The term smoking in public, means smoking in public places, indoor or outdoor, where people go to conduct business, gather or use services. These include restaurants, bars, clubs, offices, work places, play places, all government-owned and occupied buildings, health facilities, including hospitals and pharmacies; education institutions, bus stops, public transportation, including buses and taxis.

These persons who smoke in public, or business owners and managers who allow the smoking to occur on their premises, will be in breach of the law and are liable to a fine amounting to anywhere between $50 and $500,000, plus other penalties.

Is Jamaica the only country to ban smoking in public?

When the law takes effect on July 15, Jamaica will join a group of more than 100 countries that have already implemented a law banning smoking in public places. Many developed countries including Canada, Switzerland, the UK and the US, as well as many developing countries and emerging markets, including Columbia, Brazil and Zambia have implemented a law to prohibit smoking in public.

In most instances, the breach of the law is associated with a fine or penalty and, in addition to the ban on smoking in public, other laws have been implemented in some instances. For example, in Cuba it is illegal to sell cigarettes or other tobacco products near schools. In Albania, it is illegal to advertise tobacco products.

What is important?

Based on the feedback received, many persons are not sure what the term 'smoking in public' really means. There is a broad definition but most people are still uncertain as to where is considered public and where is considered private. For example, some people are under the impression that public means anywhere on public roads, while others think it is anywhere that is not their home.

In general, people are confused and need some form of clarity on the issue before the law takes effect. It is important to communicate a clear definition of what is considered smoking in public. This should be relayed to everyone, including those who do not smoke. It should state clearly, where it is legal to smoke tobacco and where it is illegal. This law should also mandate business places or anywhere smoking is banned to have clear, visible signs saying smoking is not permitted there. If there are no signs saying smoking is not permitted, then people might not know. It will reduce police harassment and court cases if the definition is clear to everyone.

Dr André Haughton is a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Follow him on twitter @DrAndreHaughton; or email