Public Health Lawyer and Consultant, Kesaundra Alves has clarified that persons caught smoking in public spaces will not face a prison sentence, but will be charged up to $10,000 if they are a first time offender.
Public smoking will soon be banned in Guyana. The Tobacco Control Bill was passed in the National Assembly last week and its enforcement will take effect once President David Granger assents to the bill.
The bill seeks to reduce consumption of tobacco products while eliminating second hand smoking which is responsible for millions of deaths across the world annually.
In an interview, the Attorney explained that the bill does not seek to ban smoking, but rather regulate the activity.
“The Tobacco Control Bill regulates smoking in the interest of protecting people from second hand smoking” she said.
What the bill places a complete ban on however, is tobacco promotion, advertising and sponsorship.
The Public Health lawyer contended that it is this promotion, advertising and sponsorship that has led to the spread of the “tobacco epidemic”. And according to her, the only way to get rid of that epidemic is to address the root cause of the issue – that is to get rid of advertising.
Further, Alves clarified that no individual who has worked with the tobacco industry within five years of them seeking employment will be barred from working in the public sector.
“That is simply not true” she said, explaining that persons who worked in the industry, within the last five years of them seeking employment, would not be considered for a job in tobacco control in the public sector.
“What we have included in the bill is that anyone who has shares or who has worked in the tobacco industry within the last five years cannot be employed in tobacco control. It is not that they cannot be employed in the public sector, it is just in the area of tobacco control. So they could even be employed in the public health ministry” the Public Health consultant noted.
She said that reason for this is due to the fact that the tobacco industry worldwide, at some point in time, attempts to interfere whenever government proposes tobacco control laws and policies. To ensure this move is not disruptive, she said the control mechanism was included in the bill.
Meanwhile, in relation to penalties for offenders, Alves again dispelled contentions that persons caught smoking in public spaces could face jail time.
In fact, she explained that persons who are caught smoking in public spaces for the first time, will pay a maximum fine of up to $10,000, while second and third time offenders will be charged a maximum of up to $20,000. None of those offenders would be sentenced to jail time.
However, she noted that a penalty fee of up to $200,000 would be instituted against persons who are caught selling tobacco products to children, those selling tobacco products that aren’t packaged in accordance with the law, and those caught advertising the products, etc.
Corporate entities would also be subject to a fine of up to $9M if they are caught violating these provisions.
Minister within the Ministry of Health, Dr Karen Cummings last week described the bill as a “life-saving” one, which she said will preserve and save many lives in Guyana.