The fight to improve tobacco control in Jamaica – never give up!

09 Jul 2014

This was due to lack of political will–tobacco control was not seen as a priority–and strong tobacco industry interference. However, in January 2012 a new Minister of Health was appointed, the Hon Dr Fenton Ferguson. He immediately stated that in 18 months Jamaica would have tobacco control regulations, and called together a group of key stakeholders to help the Ministry of Health achieve its target. 

Tobacco industry pressure

Minister Ferguson understood the challenges and committed himself to protecting the rights of Jamaican citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke, despite being under tremendous pressure from some Government officials and the ever present tobacco industry.

The Minister used his powers under the Public Health Act to announce the promulgation of the Public Health Tobacco Control Regulations (2013) on 25 June 2013, exactly as he had predicted. He assumed this would be faster than trying to pass legislation via Parliament. What a difference it is when you have a committed Minister!

The Ministry of Health collaborated with civil society, especially the JCTC, on all aspects of these tobacco control regulations, and the JCTC was able to offer technical support through the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. 

Smoke-free spaces

The regulations called for 100 percent smoke-free public places and work places (both indoor and outdoor) and graphic health warnings (GHWs) covering 75 percent of cigarette packs. When the regulations were promulgated, there was push back from the tobacco industry and some sectors of the hospitality industry.

This was further compounded when Carreras (a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Health asserting that he exceeded his powers by using the Public Health Act to promulgate the regulations. They also lodged a complaint against the 75 percent GHWs. After dialogue with the Attorney General’s Office, Carreras withdrew the lawsuit. 

A bipartisan committee of Parliament then reviewed the regulations, and recommended reducing the size of the GHWs to 60 percent. The amended regulations were tabled in Parliament on 11 June and were gazetted on 17 June.

The adoption of the regulations is an example of a true partnership, what can be achieved when all parties are committed to a goal. 

Minister thanks civil society

On 1 July, Minister Ferguson paid tribute to the role played by civil society: “Mr. Speaker, I have to take a moment to express my immense gratitude to the members of the Tobacco Coalition and the Heart Foundation of Jamaica for providing resources and partnering with me so that I was able to successfully promulgate the Tobacco Regulations.”

What advice would the JCTC give to advocates in other countries? Aim very high for what you want in the regulations or law, so if they get cut down you will still end up with strong measures.

There is more work to do. The Minister has stated that Jamaica is obliged to implement the remaining obligations under the FCTC, which will be done by preparing a comprehensive Tobacco Control Bill.

We at the JCTC remain committed to supporting the Ministry of Health as it develops this essential next step to protect the health of the citizens of Jamaica.

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