As a committee of the Jamaican parliament discusses new and more comprehensive tobacco control legislation, advocates for limiting the sale and promotion of tobacco products in the country are stepping up their campaign, including pushing for a ban on advertising sponsorship by tobacco companies.
The anti-tobacco sentiments, which would have the effect of inflicting economic pain on the tobacco industry, were on display as the Jamaica Coalition For Tobacco Control, JCTC, and The Heart Foundation of Jamaica hosted a webinar this week. The event was titled ‘Life is too precious to go up in smoke – a case for tobacco control legislation in Jamaica’.
For medical practitioner Dr Terry Baker, the continued legal sale of tobacco products worldwide, despite their proven adverse health effects, is a contradiction that should be remedied. Banning sales would sound the death knell for the tobacco trade.
“Cigarettes are one of the few products which are sold legally yet have undoubtedly been shown to cause harmful effects and death,” she said at the online event on Wednesday.
Referencing the recent running daily count of the deaths from COVID-19, she is of the view that smoking-related deaths should be given the same high profile in health communication, with such deaths being tallied and publicised regularly.
“We have a true pandemic when it comes on to cigarette smoking. Smoking kills more persons each year than AIDS, motor vehicle accidents, suicide, alcohol and other drugs combined. The life expectancy of a typical smoker is reduced by 25 years,” declared the health professional, who is also senior medical officer at National Chest Hospital and a JCTC board member.
Smoking is said to carry billions of dollars in costs for individuals and governments, causing a strain on health services, although speakers at the JCTC event did not provide precise estimates of these costs.
The webinar, moderated by JCTC chairman, noted psychiatrist Dr Aggrey Irons, was held to share information regarding the background on the Tobacco Control Bill 2020 now being reviewed by a parliamentary select committee and to highlight provisions of the World Health Organization Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, or WHO FCTC.
“In this day when everybody is going green and natural, to know that you are taking a substance, the smoke of which has over 60 substances that are carcinogenic, or known to cause cancer, really makes us wonder why we have not put a total ban on the use of tobacco and cigarettes,” Baker said, addressing persons who smoke.
She reiterated that cigarette smoking is associated with many illnesses. These include all types of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, heart attacks, excessive heart rates or palpitations, increased risk of strokes, severe strokes, diabetes, blindness and cataracts as well as various arthritis problems. Osteoporosis, chronic bronchitis, asthma, persistent cough, pneumonia, disease of the tongue, dental disease, premature ageing, erectile dysfunction, ectopic pregnancies, infertility, premature death of infants and stillbirths may also result from smoking, according to Dr. Baker.
“Just say no to that first cigarette. Just say no to continuing to smoke. Just say no to being around persons who smoke. Just say no to accepting gifts and sponsorships from companies that promote smoking,” the health advocate urged.
Meanwhile, attorney and project management consultant with the WHO/Pan American Health Organization subregional programme in the Caribbean, Sheryl Dennis Wright, says Jamaica’s development of comprehensive anti-tobacco legislation is in keeping with the country’s adoption of the WHO FCTC. She added that the continued strengthening of the implementation of the convention is a target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and is based on a human-rights approach, that is, the right of all to life, health and a healthy environment.
Quoting data from a 2018 study conducted in Jamaica, she noted that about 80 per cent of deaths in the country are caused by non-communicable diseases, NCDs, and that of all NCD deaths, 30 per cent occurred prematurely between ages 30 and 70 years.
“There is an opportunity to reduce the burden of NCDs through preventive actions, and the benefits of tobacco control, harmful alcohol use reduction and diabetes intervention significantly outweigh the costs of implementing the selected policies. Tobacco control interventions will secure the highest return on investment,” she said of the findings of the 2018 study.
Ian Stein, PAHO/WHO Representative to Jamaica, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands encouraged lawmakers to follow the example set by other Caribbean nations, which he said had moved towards enacting comprehensive tobacco legislation in fulfilment of their WHO FCTC commitments.