Tackling tobacco

Kanisa George -
Kanisa George -


It’s been around since the early 19th century, dominating headlines and pushing against views of morality. Although some call it a fad, a lifestyle choice, or just a bad habit, many didn’t believe it would be around this long.

Before cigarette use became as widespread as it is now, tobacco was used primarily in pipes, cigars, and chewing gum. This all changed by the end of the Civil War, and its popularity brought on the imposition of federal tax. Since then, there has been tremendous push back against the use of cigarettes, with populist views being largely dictated by morality.

Eventually, concerns became focused on hygiene and after a Surgeon General’s scientific study determined that there was a causal relationship between excessive cigarette smoking and lung cancer, health became the main issue. Governments began regulating smoking to cover health and public concerns in response to public outcry.

According to the World Health Organization, more than seven million people die yearly from tobacco use, and this figure includes the 900,000 that died from exposure to second-hand smoke. To address this issue, the WHO, through its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), created a framework that governments could use to address addictive substances. By implementing these guidelines, the rights of non-smokers, such as young children and those involuntarily exposed to second-hand smoke, are protected. It also strives to create standards for advertising that in the past portrayed the glamorous side of tobacco use.

In TT, the Tobacco Control Act Chapter 30:04 regulates the use and sale of tobacco while also addressing issues like public awareness. The purpose of the Act is to prevent tobacco use by children, regulate tobacco use by individuals, enhance public awareness of the hazards of tobacco use and ensure that individuals are provided with information to make more informed decisions about tobacco use. As a signatory to the WHO FCTC, the Act aligns with the guidelines and recommendations provided by the WHO.

Section 12 (1) of the Act states that no person shall smoke or hold a lighted tobacco product in any enclosed public place, enclosed workplace, or public conveyance, including but not limited to any place listed in the Second Schedule. These include public transport terminals, cinemas, and concert halls. Section 12(3) follows that where one is found guilty of this offence on summary conviction, they would be liable to a fine of $10,000 and imprisonment for six months.

An essential feature of the anti-tobacco movement is the need to protect minors from the ill effects of tobacco use. As such, legislation in most jurisdictions reflect this position. For example, Section 13 of our Tobacco Act states that no person shall sell any tobacco product to any person under the age of 18. While some countries conform to the minimum age requirement of 18, countries like Austria and Belgium allow children from 16 years of age to purchase tobacco.

Combating tobacco use in some countries has moved far beyond age limits and labelling and has now been extended to include aesthetic appeal. Although our legislation contains labelling and messaging/ warning requirements, they aren’t extended to address colour or plain and standardised packaging issues. The UK’s plain packaging law banned tobacco manufacturers from using attractive packaging to promote tobacco products. In addition to standardised cigarette packages, the law also increased the size of the photographic health warnings from 53 to 65 per cent on both sides of the pack.

In June 2021, Ministers of Parliament in the UK called for a consultation on raising the age for the sale of cigarettes to 21 from 18 to end the “tobacco epidemic” by 2030. According to a newspaper report, the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health has recommended raising the age of sale from 18 to 21 as part of stricter tobacco regulations to protect children and young people from becoming smokers. The group also called for targeted investment to provide additional support to help smokers quit in regions and communities where smoking does the most damage, including those in routine manual jobs, unemployed, and living in social housing.

In a move like no other, in 2021 the government of New Zealand announced a ban on cigarettes for future generations. With this ban, anyone born after 2008 will not be able to buy cigarettes or tobacco products in their lifetime. According to the Ministry of Health, this move is part of a sweeping crackdown on smoking. This ban, according to experts, will help people quit or switch to less harmful products and make it much less likely that young people get addicted to nicotine.

Habit-forming behaviour like smoking has always been a cause for concern, and laws are used to protect the most vulnerable. It appears that the next few years would be a game-changer where smoking is concerned; let’s see what the law would do next to tackle tobacco.


"Tackling tobacco"

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