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Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, says that the effort by the Government to implement law to ban smoking in public places, is aimed at protecting the health of citizens.

Dr. Ferguson, who was addressing a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Constant Spring held yesterday (February 12) at the Mayfair Hotel in St. Andrew, said the matter is not personal, but is a responsibility that he has to deal with as Health Minister.

“My position is not just an anti-smoker position. It is a position born out of the fact that as Minister of Health, I have a responsibility to protect the health of the nation,” he stated.

The Government is seeking to put in place a Tobacco Control Act that will protect citizens from the harmful effects of tobacco smoking, by prohibiting its use in public areas and work places. The legislation is in the draft stage and the Minister has committed to bringing it to Parliament early in the 2013/14 financial year.

Dr. Ferguson asked club members for their support, noting that the move will not be “an easy task relative to the tobacco industry and tobacco lobbyists”.

He informed that six million persons are dying annually from tobacco smoking and 600,000 from passive smoking, just from being in the same space with someone who smokes.

Statistics from the 2008 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey show that by the age of 16 years, 19 per cent of smokers had initiated smoking, and 14.5 per cent smoke cigarettes, while 13.5 per cent admit to marijuana use.

Turning to the matter of non-communicable diseases, the Minister cited statistics to show that these conditions are the leading cause of death in Jamaica today. He stated that an estimated 80 per cent of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes, and 40 per cent of cancers, could be avoided through healthy diets, regular physical activity, avoidance of tobacco use, and reduction in alcohol intake.

He said that the risk factors for these conditions are fairly common in Jamaica, noting that 65 per cent of the population between 15 and 74 years old, currently use alcohol.

“Over 90 per cent of persons, who were diagnosed as being obese, having a high blood pressure and having high cholesterol, were not on a specific diet for their condition and about 99 per cent of Jamaicans currently consume below the daily recommended portions of fruits and vegetables,” he lamented.

“With this said, there should be no question in our minds as to why we need to focus our attention on the development of the primary health care system,” he stated.

The Minister thanked the Kiwanis Club of Constant Spring for inviting him to speak and congratulated them on their outreach activities.

He told members that he was “relying on the work of the Kiwanis and other service clubs, the private sector and other non-government organizations to continue to help in making advancement in health care”.