Lack of enforcement blamed for breaches, but senior cop insists matter taken seriously
When then Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson announced a ban on cigarette smoking in public spaces almost a decade ago ago, it was considered by many to be one of the strongest pieces of legislation to be passed in Jamaica in recent times. Fast-...
When then Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson announced a ban on cigarette smoking in public spaces almost a decade ago ago, it was considered by many to be one of the strongest pieces of legislation to be passed in Jamaica in recent times.
Fast-forward to 2022 and it seems the prohibition on public smoking is largely being ignored.
As The Sunday Gleaner teams took to the streets of St Ann and Portland last week, the puffing of tobacco cigarettes and ganja spliffs was quite evident all over, with the latter being the preferred choice among those lighting up.
Violations were observed at a range of public places, with the only exception being at churches.
As the rains fell in the major towns of St Ann’s Bay and Ocho Rios on Thursday, 10 persons were seen smoking, eight of them marijuana.
In Ocho Rios, one male vendor, who was selling vegetables and ground provision at the side of the road near the market, was viewed taking intermittent puffs from a burning spliff.
He admitted that it was a regular thing for him, although he was aware of the law banning such practices.
A Rastafarian entertainer told The Sunday Gleaner that “respect due” and he no longer smokes in areas that he should not.
“In a open space, yes, yuh can do that, but when yuh have people round yuh, like yah suh (on the sidewalk), no, we cyaa do that,” he pointed out.
Another male vendor on Main Street seemed not to mind the absence of buyers as he puffed away.
Further up Main Street, an elderly gentleman sat on a stool near the entrance to a shop, alternating between a sip of liquor from a cup and a puff from a cigarette. A few feet away, on the same premises, a man rolled a spliff and lit up while rocking to music being played next door.
No one seemed to care that persons were smoking in public, even as the smoke, in some instances, appeared to reach others who were not smoking.
Some business places had ‘No Smoking’ signs displayed, a situation that widely existed before 2013. The operators believe that despite the passage of the legislation, persons needed to be reminded that smoking is restricted.
One female business operator at Ocean Village Shopping Centre said, based on her observation, there seems to be much less smoking in public than in previous years, especially since the law was relaxed on marijuana possession.
“From what I see, a lot of persons used to smoke marijuana in public, but since the law was relaxed and people are allowed to possess a certain amount, they seem to be doing it less. Maybe it’s because there appears to be less of a challenge to the law,” she suggested.
Head of the St Ann Police Division, Senior Superintendent Dwight Powell, said that since the law came into effect, several persons have been prosecuted for smoking in public spaces.
While he could not immediately provide figures, Powell said the police were always on the alert to arrest violators, as they would for any other offence.
REFUSE TO ENFORCE
Over in Portland, Renford Egbert believes the ban was just another exercise of Government to implement, ignore, and then refuse to enforce.
“Politicians are probably some of the biggest lawbreakers where smoking is concern, and they continue to indulge, rather than to set examples,” commented Egbert, who gave up smoking more than 10 years ago.
He added that this was a clear example of weakness on the part of the Government and the police to enforce the law.
“There was a time when I just couldn’t stop smoking, as I considered my rum and my cigarette to be my best friend, especially when di woman dem lef mi and gone. But it took me more than 60 years to give up smoking, after finally accepting that smoking is dangerous to my health. It was after visiting the doctor and I was advised to quit smoking and shortly after, I stopped,” he added.
Enforcement has been so lax since the implementation of the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations 2013 and the Dangerous Drugs Act in 2015 that even persons who are guilty of the offence have admitted that it has got out of hand.
“I am a man weh just bun mi cigarette and weed fi relax mi brain and sometime mi unda serious stress. Yow, is a rough life out deh and sometime mi caan get work, woman lef mi, mi cyan pay rent, and mi have pickney fi send go school. So mi tend fi smoke, ‘cause me naah rob and kill nobody,” said a smoker, who gave his name as Hugh.
“But mi naah walk and blow smoke inna nobody face like weh mi see di young bwoy dem a do. Dem nuh have nothing ‘bout dem and dem a stabber. Dem wi kill you now, especially when dem smoke dem high grade.”
At many locations The Sunday Gleaner visited across Portland on Friday, lighting up a cigarette, a spliff, or even a chalice was a common practice.
“The idea to ban smoking in public space was a good one, but Government feel like dem a go lose vote and that they will become very unpopular, so dem naah enforce nothing,” said Michael Jones, an educator.
“Sometimes I stop at a bar to have a nice, quiet drink, and a man just walk in and order a cigarette and light it and just blow the smoke in my direction. Now if the owner not doing anything about it, then who am I to say anything? It has to be a collaborate effort between Government, the police, and other stakeholders to make this ban stick. Every person has a democratic right to smoke or not to smoke, but a smoker should not be allowed to impose his habits on other people.”
The law states that operators of places such as restaurants, clubs and party venues, and tourist establishments are to have visible no-smoking signage and ensure that the regulations are followed, or they could be fined up to $1 million for the breach.