by Latoya Burnham
With Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago having passed legislation banning smoking in public places, an anti-smoking advocate in Jamaica says that country still has an uphill battle to do the same.
Director of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition and Executive Director of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, Deborah Chen, caused a stir at a signing ceremony of the HCC and Sagicor Life Inc. yesterday, when she remarked on the challenges her country was having because of what she claimed were close ties between tobacco and other interests there.
She said Barbados and twin-island republic to the south had shown that bans could work, and furthermore that there was no adverse impact on tourism or the economy as a result.
“We are happy that Barbados has passed it though, and Trinidad because it does give us a model. It can be done. It has not affected Barbados in any way. It has not made tourism go down; it has not stopped people going into restaurants…
“Research has shown that when other countries banned tobacco smoking, such as in the UK, it has not affected the business economically. What you find happening is quite the opposite. People that will not go out in public places unless it is smoke free, more of those persons are coming out. So it is a real fallacy and it is a red herring,” she said in a brief interview following the ceremony at UN House last afternoon.
Chen, who is also President Elect of the InterAmerican Heart Foundation, noted that regional as well as global statistics had shown that most people start smoking before the age of 18, adding that while there was Child Health and Protection legislation in Jamaica, it was not really serving as the deterrent it should.
“[T]here is actually the Child Health and Protection … Act that governs that, but if 90 per cent of persons who smoke now started before they are 18, clearly it has not been enforced. So in fact, a higher percentage of smokers are in the younger age groups, and once you start smoking it is easy to become addicted.
“There is a reason why people cannot get drivers’ licences, or drink or smoke until they are a certain age, because you are not at a point of maturity where you can think through what the consequences of your actions are. The thing is, once you start to smoke you soon become addicted and when you are addicted to anything as you know, you can’t just stop even though you may wish. So this is the challenge we face globally but in our region as well as we are dealing with the Healthy Caribbean Coalition. So most of the persons are young persons,” she said.
The concern, she noted was the impact it was having not just on the population as a whole, but on overall development.
“It is also a national development issue, because the money people spend on cigarettes is money they are not spending on things like nutrition and so on. In Jamaica, 19.3 per cent of the low income persons smok???