ABLP colleagues clash over Tobacco Bill restriction

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Member of parliament for St. Mary’s North Molwyn Joseph, who is also the minister of health, received some push back from members of his own party concerning restrictions on cigarette smokers found in the Tobacco Control Bill 2017 presented to parliament yesterday.
Opposition first came from St. John’s Rural North member of parliament, Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, who took exception to Part 3 number 9 of the Bill, which puts restrictions on smokers of 30 metres from any doorway, operable window, or air intake mechanism; 30 metres from any waiting area or queue, including but not limited to public transport stops.
“I want to draw your attention where it says 30 metres. That’s like 100 feet and that’s excessive if you have someone who goes to a hotel and wants to go out in the garden and smoke 15 feet away from the hotel. We have to make sure we don’t make the Tobacco Bill more restrictive than the marijuana bill,” Fernandez said.
Joseph responded immediately by pointing out that the Bill allows for hotels to provide designated spaces for people to smoke. He gave the example of hotels creating a bar for smokers so that they do not contaminate bystanders with secondhand smoke. He then reminded his colleagues that the time for debating the Bill had passed and therefore they should refrain from doing so.
Member of parliament for St. Phillips, North Sir Robin Yearwood, rose to the defense of Fernandez and pointed out that hotels are private property and questioned the right of the Bill to stipulate what hotel owners should do with their property. He called the law restrictive of the rights of smokers to smoke freely on hotel compounds.
Sir Robin contended that 70 percent of visitors who come to Antigua are smokers and this type of restriction will turn them away. He also predicted that the restriction will result in litigation against the government. He claimed that it is unfair that marijuana can be smoked anywhere but cigarette is being restricted even though marijuana is more harmful than cigarettes.
Member of St. Mary’s South, Samantha Marshall, who is also the minister of social transformation rebutted Sir Robin’s claims. Marshall emphasised that the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2017 does not allow people to smoke in public places but only gives individuals the right to use up to 15 grams inside their personal dwelling place.
Speaker of the House, Sir Gerald Watt QC, tried to bring order to the house by reminding Sir Robin that the time for debate had passed but the minister vehemently continued to make his point that the government should not tell hotels how to govern where smokers can and cannot smoke on hotel property.
Fernandez rose again to point out that to his knowledge secondhand smoke is only a problem in enclosed spaces and therefore the restriction is excessive. However, Joseph passionately refuted those claims and highlighted the science which shows that secondhand smoke is just as dangerous in the open as it is in closed areas.
Member of St. John’s City South and attorney general, Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin then stepped in and tried to quell the situation recommending that an amendment be made to 15 feet instead of the proposed 30 metres. After involving the leader of the opposition Jamale Pringle, a compromise was made to amend the proposed 30 metres to 15 metres instead.
 The other restrictions to smoking in the Bill are the premises of any child care facility or educational facility at any level of instruction, the premises of any health care facility, a playground, amusement park, plaza, or public park, a stadium, arena, or any kind of sports, music, arts, or other performance space, a space for the service or consumption of food or drink and any other outdoor public or work space as may be specified in the regulations.
One of the aims of the proposed legislation to regulate tobacco is to fulfil the government’s international legal obligations under the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, economic, and environmental consequences of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke by continuously and substantially reducing tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

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