Fri | Feb 26, 2021

Holy smokes! New law may bar public servants from tobacco investments

Published:Wednesday | December 23, 2020 | 12:18 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Staff Reporter
The proposed tobacco bill is geared towards imposing new strictures on the cigarette industry.
The proposed tobacco bill is geared towards imposing new strictures on the cigarette industry.
Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels believes that the draft tobacco law may run into constitutional problems.
Attorney-at-law Bert Samuels believes that the draft tobacco law may run into constitutional problems.
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Far-reaching provisions have been crafted in the Tobacco Control Act, 2020, that will bar public servants from investing in the tobacco industry and also prohibit them from operating a tobacco manufacturing, wholesale, retail or import business.

That stricture could well prevent public servants from holding shares in companies like market leader Carreras.

But even before the bill goes before a joint select committee of parliament for consideration, the constitutionality of the provision barring workers in public bodies is being questioned.

The bill defines public body as a ministry or department of government, including a statutory body or authority, a government company, or an executive agency.

Arguing that Section 13 of the Constitution provides for the right to equality before the law, attorney-at-law Bert Samuels said that Section 9 (3) (d) of the draft law seems to be discriminatory.

He argued that the provision does not seem to be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

“A more restrictive class of prohibited persons might work where persons are directly concerned with the regulatory body for the tobacco industry but not outside of those regulators,” Samuels reasoned.

Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, who tabled the bill in Parliament recently, said that the draft law would be referred to a joint select committee of Parliament for deliberations before it is debated.

Tufton was asked to comment on the thinking behind the provision that excluded public-sector workers from investing in the tobacco industry.

He said the provision was not unique to Jamaican law but was benchmarked against international standards that sought to discourage personal or special interest to drive the tobacco agenda.

“ I am assuming that it makes a link between ownership of interest and the whole advancing of the tobacco consumption agenda,” Tufton told The Gleaner on Tuesday.

He said the bill tries to discourage the public from advancing any interest around tobacco consumption because of the deleterious effects of consumption.

IMPORTANT PIECE OF LEGISLATION

Describing it as an important piece of legislation, Tufton said that stakeholders will be given an opportunity to make submissions and to ask questions about the draft law.

Without giving a specific timeline for completing discussions on the bill, the minister said there are plans to start examining the proposed law in early January.

The bill sets out the public health policy of the Government relating to tobacco control.

It provides for the development and implementation of a national strategy for tobacco control and the protection of the public against the influence of, and interference by, commercial and other vested interests.

In its recently published annual report, a major tobacco player, Carreras, commented on the Government’s intention to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control protocol.

The company implored the Government to focus on eliminating illicitly traded tobacco products from the marketplace, particularly in increasing the penalties meted out to smugglers and handlers as well as strengthening border-protection measures.

“Once enforced effectively, the company is confident in the positive and sustained impact to reduce the local incidence of unlawful cigarette trading,” Carreras stated.

Carreras boss Raoul Glynn estimates the value of the illicit trade at $2.5 billion. Carreras’s annual sales is now in the range of $14 billion.

The bill seeks to introduce a legislative framework for the adoption and implementation of tobacco-control policies in accordance with the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.