Mon | Jan 17, 2022

Tobacco law investment barrier unjustified, says business lobby

Published:Thursday | December 2, 2021 | 12:10 AM

The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) has cautioned a joint select committee reviewing the Tobacco Control Act, 2020, that a provision in the proposed law that blocks public servants from investing in tobacco or related companies may be unconstitutional.

Larry Watson, chief executive officer of the JCC, told lawmakers on Wednesday that clause nine of the bill could have far-reaching implications for some major manufacturing and distribution companies in Jamaica that have invested in pension schemes.

“The Charter of Rights stipulates that for same to be done, it must be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” the JCC executive argued.

He cautioned that barring civil servants from holding securities in tobacco or related companies was not demonstrably justified.

Watson told committee members that this proposed law could result in public servants being prevented from investing in some of Jamaica’s leading manufacturing and distribution companies if these entities were selling tobacco products.

He argued that one might have a very large distribution or manufacturing company servicing a hotel that deals with Asian clients and might want to bring in tobacco products for their guests.

“Now the fact that they may be selling a couple of cases of a tobacco product specifically to these clients would, in fact, eliminate them from being an investment opportunity.

“Quite frankly, it may, in fact, create an issue when one looks at the pension landscape of Jamaica because companies that may or may not be involved in the tobacco business may not be available for investment,” Watson maintained.

The JCC CEO urged the committee to consider the provision carefully.

INHERENT CONFLICT

However, Dr Aggrey Irons, chairman of the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control (JCTC), threw the organisation’s full support behind clause nine of the bill.

He contended that there was a fundamental and inherent conflict of interest between public health and the commercial and vested interest of the tobacco industry.

“Because their products are lethal, the tobacco industry should not be granted incentives to establish or run their businesses,” the JCTC chairman said.

Irons asserted that government officials should declare and divest themselves of direct interests in the tobacco industry.

Irons, a well-known psychiatrist, suggested that the controversial provision should “go as deeply and as widely as possible in the public sector”.

“Ours is not the business of telling, but just suggesting that it would certainly not be in order for the tobacco industry to be owned and operated by persons who have an interest in regulating it at the level of Government,” Irons said.

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