Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Government in breach of tobacco treaty

Published:Wednesday | March 2, 2011 | 12:00 AM

The following is an open letter from the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control to Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

The Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control is becoming increasingly concerned about the bid to expand the production of tobacco growing in Jamaica, which is in direct contravention of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Treaty - The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which the Government of Jamaica signed on September 24, 2003 and ratified on July 7, 2005.

In 2003, the WHO established this first ever public-health treaty in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic. The WHO reports that tobacco use is one of the biggest public-health threats the world has ever faced. It kills more than five million people a year - an average of one person every six seconds - and accounts for one in 10 adult deaths. Up to half of current users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease. Based on current mortality linked to tobacco smoking, evidence is that 75 per cent of the mortality from smoking will be in developing countries, and in Jamaica, with a larger percentage of hypertension and diabetes, the evidence is that these diseases will increase mortality to a considerable degree.

Legally binding

The signatories of the FCTC are legally bound by the treaty's provisions. The treaty has articles which address issues related to tobacco control such as protection from exposure to tobacco smoke, price and tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco, non-price measures to reduce the demand for tobacco, packaging and labelling of tobacco products, regulation of the contents of tobacco products, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, the provision of support for economically viable alternative activities and guidelines on interactions with the tobacco industry.

In addition to the expansion of tobacco production, the Government is also in breach of the treaty obligations as it relates to the passing of tobacco-control legislation. This legislation had been promised on many occasions and it is yet to become a reality. One of the provisions of this legislation is the banning of smoking in public places in order to protect the health of the population from the effects of second-hand tobacco smoke. This legislation has already been enacted in many countries of the world, including Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados.

Also, in contravention of this treaty, the Government, through the Ministry of Education and the Child Development Agency, has been collaborating with the tobacco company in the promotion of youth anti-tobacco campaigns. This was launched in 2010 and had the endorsement of these two agencies. Research has proven that this programme has the opposite effect of what, which on the face of it, is intended to be achieved. In fact, it actually results in more young people starting to smoke.

Financial support

The Government has been accepting financial support from the tobacco company, such as the recent receipt of $2.7m to repair police vehicles. While this gesture, at first glance, would seem like a good thing, there is a conflict of interest. The corporate social responsibility of the tobacco industry is, according to WHO FCTC, an inherent contradiction, as the industry's core functions are in conflict with the goals of public-health policies with respect to tobacco control.

The issue of the revenue generated from the tobacco industry is commonly raised. The World Bank examined in a 1999 report, Curbing the Epidemic, Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control, the economic questions that policymakers must address when contemplating tobacco control. This report demonstrates that the economic fears deterring policymakers from taking action are largely unfounded. Policies that reduce the demand for tobacco, such as a decision to increase tobacco taxes, do not cause long-term job losses in the vast majority of countries.

In addition to Jamaica being a signatory to the FCTC, in September 2007 there was a meeting in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, which all the heads of government of the region attended.

Jamaica and the region stand to be embarrassed internationally, if, at the United Nations General Assembly, it is found that the Government of Jamaica is in breach of the FCTC, in particular by encouraging the expansion of tobacco production in Jamaica, especially given that the PM of Jamaica is the CARICOM chair.