Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says the Ministry remains open to facilitating dialogue and “reasonable” suggestions from stakeholders regarding the newly implemented Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations.
The regulations, which stipulate a ban on cigarette smoking in defined public spaces, came into effect on Monday, July 15.
Speaking at a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) Think Tank at the agency’s head office on Half-Way-Tree Road on Tuesday, July 16, Dr. Ferguson made it clear that “we have not banned smoking in total across Jamaica”.
“What we have done is to say these are the areas that you ought not to smoke, but we are not saying that this is cast in concrete. So, we are open for dialogue and where there are reasonable suggestions, I will respond,” he stated.
Dismissing suggestions from some quarters that the policy has “come up suddenly,” Dr. Ferguson stated that since becoming Minister, “I have been strident in this regard”.
“I have been talking about this for about a year and half. In fact, I have been criticised by some who asked when it’s coming and we can’t keep talking, we need to say when it is going to happen,” he added.
He said he had committed to its implementation by the first quarter of the 2013/14 financial year, and “I was very happy that on the 25th of June, when I spoke in the Sectoral Debate, we announced that it would have materialized on the 15th of July.”
Dr. Ferguson said the rational for instituting the policy is based on several factors. These, he outlined, include the administration’s vision of Jamaica becoming the “health hub” of the Caribbean; creating a smoke free-environment; and reducing deaths from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25 per cent by 2025. This in accordance with Jamaica’s commitment at the World Health Assembly (WHA).
“When we look at emerging data, some 50 per cent of persons who smoke die from some kind of tobacco-related illness. So my actions and that of the Government are not in isolation. It is against the background of a vision. It is against the background of doing other things that when you pull the pieces together, you will see, over time, the emergence of a health care delivery system that will be good for Jamaica,” he argued.
Dr. Ferguson noted that as the regulations are fully implemented over the next three to six months, challenges will arise. He assured, however, that as they surface “(I) as Minister, with my team, we will respond.”