Smoking costing Gov't more than it pays - health ministry

Published: Thursday | October 10, 2013 Comments 0

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

MINISTRY OF Health officials yesterday told a parliamentary committee, which is reviewing the ban on smoking in public places, that the cost of dealing with tobacco-related illnesses far outstrip taxes collected from cigarette companies.

Carreras, the leading marketer and distributor of cigarettes and tobacco-related products in Jamaica, last week told the Human Resource and Social Development Committee of Parliament that it contributes $11 billion yearly to the national budget, and 75 per cent of the National Health Fund budget.

But in a stinging rebuttal before the committee yesterday, the health ministry said that for every tobacco dollar in taxes, the Government spends between $8 and $13 dealing with smoking-related illnesses.

Adrian Booth, speaking on behalf of the ministry, said while Jamaica has not done any studies in the area, the ministry has extrapolated from research done in the United States, where the cost of tobacco use has been estimated at US$193 billion.

Booth said the direct and indirect cost of tobacco use is between US$750 million and US$1.3 billion.

"It is important that we look to make steps to continually and effectively reduce tobacco consumption in Jamaica," Booth said.

Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson, after announcing a ban on smoking in public places, has acceded to a request from stakeholders for the regulations to be fully considered by Parliament.

Carreras has taken issue with several aspects of the regulations, arguing that some are unconstitutional and impractical.

The company, for example, has argued for the removal of the requirement for every stick of cigarette to contain graphic health warning.

However, the Ministry of Health said the trade in single sticks represents a significant percentage of tobacco sales which include sale to children. Booth said yesterday that the ministry would agree to removing the requirement for graphic health warnings on each stick, so long as prescribed warnings are displayed at points of sale.

The ministry has also snubbed a suggestion that the provision banning smoking in private residences, which are place of work for others, be removed from the regulation.

Dr Eva Lewis Fuller, who also represented the ministry of health, said the tactics of the tobacco lobby has been one of denial, distraction and delay.

"The tobacco industry has the resources, the global reach and power to influence all countries. We are not here talking about a little entity, we are talking about one of the most powerful multinationals in the whole world," she said.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com

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