The Health Minister said his Ministry recently engaged internationally renowned tobacco tax specialist, Dr. Corne Van Walbeek, to undertake the study, which “will further guide national tobacco control policies in observance of Jamaica’s obligation under Article six (Price and Tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco).” Dr. Van Walbeek had done a similar research in Jamaica in 2005.
Minister Ferguson made his comments as he addressed a stakeholders meeting to discuss the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) needs assessment report on Jamaica.
The meeting, organised by the Ministry, was aimed at gaining commitment on the part of stakeholders, to addressing the gaps identified with respect to the implementation of the FCTC.
The assessment was undertaken by the Ministry and the Convention Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in collaboration the Pan American Health Organization, in August 2014.
Minister Fenton noted that even though the country has implemented the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations in 2013, other areas remain to be addressed in order to be fully compliant with the FCTC.
He told stakeholders that among the needs and priorities identified by the report, is the development of comprehensive tobacco control legislation.
“We had commenced the drafting of this legislation prior to the promulgation of the regulations. We will receive technical assistance from the Pan American Health Organization and our regional partners to finalise same,” he informed.
In addition, the Health Minister said a comprehensive anti-tobacco strategy will be developed, which will include a multi-pronged approach, to reach the varied target groups.
Providing further findings from the needs assessment, Legal Officer at the Ministry of Health, Sheryl Dennis, noted there is need to protect tobacco control measures from the influence of the vested interest of the tobacco industry.
“It was a notable gap and this is so, partly because persons are not aware of the various means by which the industry can influence or maybe will simply ignore and don’t treat as seriously, our obligations under the framework Convention,” Ms. Dennis said.
Article 5.3 of the Convention requires parties to protect tobacco control measures from the influence of vested interests in the tobacco industry.
Ms. Dennis said Jamaica does not yet have in place, mechanisms to identify, prevent or to address such tobacco industry influence.
“It is therefore recommended that the Government put such mechanisms in place, including but not limited to the development of a code of conduct for public officials in their dealing with the tobacco industry and its interest groups, and to ensure transparency of any interactions between the government and the tobacco industry in the process of developing and implementing regulations and other measures, which concern the tobacco sector,” she stated.
She also highlighted the need for the country to update its tax policies.
“The weight of the specific excise tax applied on tobacco products has not changed since 2010 and it has been further eroded by inflation. This has resulted in the reduction of tax value in real terms. One of the recommendations made therefore, is that the Government implement tax increases on a regular basis to take into account, both increases in consumer prices and household incomes, in order to decrease affordability for tobacco products and eventually reduce consumption,” Ms. Dennis said.
She said the excise tax should be applied to all tobacco products at the same or similar rates applicable to cigarettes.
Ms. Dennis informed that the passage of the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations have made Jamaica compliant with some of its obligations under the Convention, including Article 8 and 11 in full, and Articles 10 and 16 in part.
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