Jamaica - tackle smoking and save lives and money..

March 1, 2011 - The Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control is becoming increasingly concerned about the decision to expand the production of tobacco growing in Jamaica, which is in direct contravention of the World Health Organization (WHO) treaty - The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The Government of Jamaica signed the FCTC on 24 September 2003 and ratified it on 7 July 2005.

In addition to the expansion of tobacco production, the Government is also in breach of its obligations under the FCTC as it relates to the passing of tobacco control legislation. (Gov't should not promote use of tobacco, Jamaica Observer, 3/9/201)

In contravention of this treaty, the Government through the Ministry of Education and the Child Development Agency has been collaborating with the tobacco company in the promotion of youth anti tobacco campaigns.

So last week, the new Tory-led coalition government surprised some of its supporters and introduced a ban on point-of-sale display of cigarettes in shops. It is also consulting on plain paper packs to make cigarettes as unappealing as possible. When governments take action it can move public opinion and force even conservative successor administrations to take a progressive line.

We took tough action because smoking kills. Half of the people currently smoking in Jamaica will die from a tobacco-related disease. But precisely because European countries have been so effective in tobacco control, "Big Tobacco" companies are now turning to countries like Jamaica. They believe that smaller and poorer countries will be less likely to put up a fight. But we know that the more Jamaicans smoke, and the earlier they start, the more likely they are to die prematurely.

Jamaica's people are its biggest asset. So public health should be a key concern of any Jamaican government. And government policies that bring down levels of smoking actually save the tax-payer money in the long run. Less smoking means fewer people needing expensive treatment for cancer.

In the short run, tobacco companies have money to spend and it is easy for lobbyists to dismiss health concerns. We in Britain faced some of these same arguments. But let us hope that Jamaica has the courage to pursue policies that will bring down levels of smoking. The health of the nation will benefit and children yet unborn will be grateful.

References: Tackle smoking and save lives and money, Dianne Abbott (www.dianeabbott.org.uk) is the British Labour Party's shadow public health minister, jamaicaobserver.com, 3/13/2011; OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF JAMAICA AND THE PEOPLE OF JAMAICA, The Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control, 12/28/2011.