Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Jamaica's leading tobacco manufacturer, Carreras Limited, appears to be breathing much easier in the aftermath of the recommendations from the Human Social Development Committee of Parliament.
Carreras' Managing Director Marcus Steele said Tuesday that he welcomed the move by the parliamentary committee.
The committee was tasked by Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson to review the Tobacco Control Regulations.
Steele told The Gleaner that some of the recommendations would go a far way in levelling the playing field.
"Carreras, like many other businesses across the country, was never opposed to the regulations," asserted Steele. "What we had asked for was balance and the recognition that the product is still legal."
He said, as it stands in other jurisdictions, consumers in Jamaica should know where they can consume the product even within a regulated setting.
Steele maintained that the regulations in their current form were excessive and expressed that they would only serve to transfer consumption from the legal distributors to the growing illicit trade.
"Now that the parliamentary committee has spoken, we hope that he (Ferguson) will now move to formally announce the amended regulations to end a process that has significantly impacted not only our business, but the small operations of thousands of vendors, shops and bars across the country," said Steele.
He cited Supreme Ventures Limited's Brian George who had also publicly indicated that the regulations have negatively impacted sales across the country.
Said Steele: "The country now waits to hear from Dr Ferguson, who indicated that he would act on the amendments following the completion of the work of the parliamentary committee."
The recommendations of the regulations announced on July 15, 2013, will be sent to the Parliament.
Ferguson had asked the parliamentary committee to examine the provisions of the regulations, following outcry from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association, the Jamaica Hotel Association, Carreras, the Opposition, several businesses, and bar owners.
The committee, which received several submissions from a range of stakeholders and interest groups, voted to:
Allow all businesses, including hotels, the right to establish outdoor designated smoking areas for their patrons.
Remove the requirement under the regulations to have pictorial graphic health warnings on communications at the point of sale.
Reduce the 75 per cent graphic health-warning coverage on cigarette packages.
Move the transitional period to allow Carreras to prepare for the regulations, from six months to nine months.
Ferguson told Parliament in July that he would amend the regulations to redefine 'public places, enclosed places and a workplace', remove the requirement for cigarette stick labelling, exempt private residences from the regulations, and remove the criminal sanctions for anyone found in breach of the regulations.
He also said he would significantly reduce the fine associated with breaches of the regulations, which now stands at $50,000 for individuals on first conviction.