Concerned about the reduction in contribution from the tobacco tax to the National Health Fund (NHF), which impacts over 500,000 Jamaicans, Dr Shane Alexis, newly elected president of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), is calling on the health ministry to reveal the contingency plan that will be put in place should there be a shortfall.
"While we must attend to smoking, we must not forget the other chronic illnesses in the population," he shared at a press conference at MAJ's St Andrew office on Thursday.
Noting that the MAJ supports any activity that improves the health of Jamaica, he said a reduction of revenue to the fund would have dire consequences.
Since the implementation of the Public Health Tobacco Control Regulations on July 15, the tobacco companies have recorded a drastic reduction in cigarette sales, which will impact revenue to the government coffers.
The Government more than doubled taxes on tobacco products over three consecutive fiscal years up to 2011-2012, with a significant amount of tax receipts on the sale of cigarettes going towards the NHF. 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 each year to the national budget, and 75 per cent of the NHF budget.
However, on Wednesday the health ministry said that for every tobacco dollar in taxes, the Government spends between $8 and $13 dealing with smoking-related illnesses.
Alexis is also calling on the ministry to tidy up the Tobacco Control Legislation, so that all parties involved will have a clearer understanding.
On October 23, the MAJ will be taking the debate on sustainable financing of Jamaica's health sector to the public, bringing together key stakeholders to discuss how best to improve the quality of affordable health care for all Jamaicans.
Alexis said 97 per cent of hospital beds in Jamaica were in the public sector, therefore what happened in the public sector was of importance to all Jamaicans and taking a collective, inclusive approach to solving the financial challenges of the health sector was very important.