Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR of the Jamaica Cancer Society, Yulit Gordon, has expressed pleasure at the Government's decision to stick to its guns in enforcing the ban on cigarette smoking in public places and has given Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson a pat on the back for his hard-line stance on the issue.
Ferguson announced on Tuesday that persons convicted for breaching the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations 2013 would not incur a criminal record as a result of that conviction, and that some of the fines would also be lowered. These are just two of the amendments to the original legislation, which took effect on July 15 and is now being reviewed by the parliamentary committee.
However, he warned detractors that this should be seen as softness or back-pedalling on the issue by himself or the health ministry.
"The health of the Jamaican people remains non-negotiable, and we will not relent on this," he told a press briefing at the National Health Fund's boardroom in New Kingston. "Therefore, despite the concessions we have made, the ban on smoking in specified public places will remain in place."
This announcement was well received by Gordon, who attended the press briefing and shared her thoughts with The Gleaner afterwards.
"The Jamaica Cancer Society is very pleased that the tobacco regulations remain in force. We are also very pleased that the minister singled out cancer as one of the non-communicable diseases that require special attention because of the prevalence and high mortality rate," Gordon said.
She explained that in addition to the mental anguish endured by relatives of cancer victims in caring for them and watching as they suffer the usually irreversible symptoms of the disease, the economic devastation that follows is a very sad story, often untold.
"The cost to treat cancer is astronomical and has driven many families to bankruptcy. We all, as stakeholders, must play our part in reinforcing this ban to safeguard our loved ones, our families, and our communities," she insisted.
AMENDMENTS BEING REVIEWED
Among the amendments being reviewed are those relating to outdoor smoking areas. It is proposed that owners and operators of businesses - including hotels and guest houses, in addition to those places established under the Public Health (Tourist Establishments) Regulations 2000 - be permitted to have outdoor smoking areas, which meet certain conditions prescribed under the regulations. However, staff of these establishments will not be required to enter these areas as part of their on-the-job duties.
Meanwhile, on the issue of designated smoking rooms, Ferguson remained resolute that the idea would not be entertained in any shape or form. In fact, he also made it clear that no leniency would be extended to business operators who continue to allow patrons to smoke, in contravention of the regulations. The fine which was set at a high of $1 million will remain in effect.