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EDITORIAL - Clarify e-cigarette ban

Published:Wednesday | September 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Though bunglingly implemented, the ban on smoking in public places and the other initiatives introduced last year to reduce the use of tobacco were, broadly, good public policy. We are not so sure about the ban on the importation of electronic cigarettes announced this week by Customs, on the directive of the health ministry.

In that regard, the health minister, Fenton Ferguson, and his technocrats owe the public more, and better, particulars. For, as Dr Ferguson might be aware, policies work best when they have the support of society, or, even when inconvenienced, people believe that the actions being taken are, ultimately, in their best interest.

That, largely, was the case when the restrictions on where smokers could light up and the requirement that manufacturers place on their packages the explicit messages, with accompanying graphics about the dangers of smokers, came into effect.

People understand that an estimated six million people die each year globally from illnesses associated with smoking. They appreciate, too, the reality of J$17 billion, or more than half of the health budget, being spent annually on non-communicable diseases, including those caused or exacerbated by smoking. Increasingly, too, people understand that the fag need not be theirs; they can be victims of passive smoking. Even the social circumstance of smoking is, increasingly, not so cool. Many non-smokers don't want to have the scent of cigarettes on their person or on their clothes.

Matters are not so clear-cut with e-cigarettes, in which nicotine, sometimes with added flavours, are vaporised in a battery-powered, cigarette-like gadget to simulate the effect of smoking. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has promoted the same case types of restrictions placed on e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

Jamaica, however, has gone further, by banning their importation, though not their use. It is not clear, though, whether this means all importation or only in commercial quantities.

Further, Jamaica's ban came only days after a coalition of university experts in London - who can't be numbered among the cigarette lobby - issued a report challenging the WHO's position of e-cigarettes, and arguing that for every one million English smokers who switched from tobacco to e-cigarettes, around 6,000 premature deaths would be prevented. Not only do these experts also dispute e-cigarettes as a gateway to tobacco, they argue that e-cigarettes provide an easier route to quitting smoke than nicotine patches.

Of course, there are potentially unknown dangers in e-cigarettes, but their outright ban from entering Jamaica, while the importation of tobacco products remains legal, is, to say the least, paradoxical. Indeed, this move is likely to encourage an increase in the smuggling of illicitly trademarked cigarettes, which can be sold cheaper in the market, lowering the cost constraint to smoking. Smuggling means a failure to pay legitimate taxes and duties. The danger here is weakening the intent of the anti-smoking policy.

Maybe the Government has all the bases covered. But it would still be good to make a cogent and coherent case to the people in support of its policies.

Not Mr Gilzene

In our editorial yesterday, Ewart Gilzene was identified as chairman of Nutrition Products Limited, the ostensibly government-owned company whose annual accounts have not been published since the 2011-2012 financial year and whose shareholding records at the Companies Office appear in need of updating. In fact, Mr Gilzene is no longer chairman of the NPL, having been replaced with the change of administration in 2012.

We apologise to Mr Gilzene for any embarrassment that this reference may have caused.