Tufton talks tough

MINISTER of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton has underscored Jamaica’s commitment to tobacco control as more young people fall prey to the drug and the world faces a ballooning noncommunicable (NCDs) diseases crisis.

“The challenges to human and environmental health that tobacco presents are well documented and significant. This is the case globally and certainly as we consider the Jamaica situation,” noted Tufton on Tuesday as he addressed a high-level Tobacco Free Finance Pledge side event, held during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, United States.

“Annually, more than eight million people lose their lives to tobacco use. In Jamaica, as elsewhere in the world, we have a NCDs epidemic, fuelled in part by tobacco use. More than 70 per cent of deaths in Jamaica annually are linked to NCDs,” added Tufton.

According to the health minister, it is against this background that Jamaica is determined to do all it can to get a firm handle on tobacco control, including addressing the high prevalence of tobacco use among local youth, including e-cigarette use and vaping.

He noted that in 2017 approximately one in seven (14.9 per cent) of Jamaica’s children aged 13-17 reported smoking cigarettes, while almost two-thirds (67.4 per cent) aged 13-17 reported that persons smoked in their presence on one or more days within the past week.

Tufton further pointed out that, also in 2017, 11.7 per cent of students reported using e-cigarettes while 32.1 per cent were exposed to tobacco smoke at home, and 48.2 per cent inside enclosed public places.

“These statistics are a clarion call to comprehensive, sustained, and collaborative actions,” said Tufton.

He pointed out that Jamaica’s efforts to tackle these issues include passing legislation to adequately regulate the tobacco industry.

“In 2020 I tabled the Tobacco Control Act, 2020 in Parliament and it is currently being considered by a joint select committee, which I chair. The passage of the Bill will allow Jamaica to be fully compliant with its treaty obligations under the WHO [World Health Organization] Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [FCTC]. It will also protect Jamaicans, including children and the vulnerable, from the harmful and addictive effects of tobacco use,” said Tufton.

He pointed out that, among other things, the Bill includes provisions for the regulation of interactions of government officials with the tobacco industry, to ensure that government bodies interact with the tobacco industry only when and to the extent — and only when strictly necessary — to enable them to effectively regulate the tobacco industry and tobacco products.

It also requires testing and measurement of the contents and emissions of tobacco products; provisions for the disclosure of information on toxic substances to the public; and speaks to the promotion of communication and public awareness of tobacco control issues, and about the health risks of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.

Tufton said these efforts build on collaboration and support from entities including Pan American Health Organization and the WHO FCTC Secretariat, together with having national focal points, a multi-sectoral Tobacco Technical Working Group coordinating mechanism, and strong civil society support.

“Of course, there continues to be persistent direct and indirect interference by the tobacco industry — as documented by the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control — however, we are not daunted,” said Tufton.

“We have a big job on our hands to preserve human health and the health of the environment from tobacco. I am confident that working together, we can get it done — including through the continued engagement and partnership of players from the finance sector in support of the transition to a net-zero world where tobacco has no place,” added Tufton.

More focus on tobacco control will come on Monday, which will be marked as World Lung Day. The theme this year is ‘Access to prevention and treatment for all. Leave no one behind’.