Sunday, February 18, 2018

AG suspects lobbyists behind objections

Tobacco Control Bill

ATTORNEY General Anand Ramlogan yesterday defended Government’s Tobacco Control Bill, saying some objections to the new regulations mirrored concerns raised Monday by the West Indian Tobacco Company (WITCO).

Speaking in the Senate, Ramlogan said WITCO wrote to Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan Monday to complain that some of the regulations proposed to be added to the bill were ultra vires (beyond the capability of the company).

Ramlogan said yesterday some of WITCO’s concerns were being repeated in the Senate, by coincidence.

He also said some concerns from people in the Senate may have been influenced by the anti-tobacco lobby.

Responding to a concern by Independent Senator Helen Drayton that tobacco companies would be bound to place a specific warning on cigarette packaging and that this may prevent them from placing other responsible messages, Ramlogan said it was highly unlikely any tobacco company would voluntarily wish to place a warning on their product.

The AG said that allowing companies to place their own messages, such as a specific warning against selling tobacco products to persons under the age of 18, might also work against the Bill by making it seem sale of the products to persons above 18 years is permissible.

Ramlogan quoted from an article by The Economist magazine that ranked Trinidad and Tobago in the top ten tobacco consumers in the world, and said this country has a culture of allowing children to make contact with tobacco.

Ramlogan said he has himself lost a brother and his father to smoking and surmised that nearly every family in T&T has been touched by the effects of tobacco addiction.

“These regulations, they touch me at a very personal level,” Ramlogan said, though parts of his contributions caused laughter, particularly when he urged young women to stay away from men who smoked.

The social cost of a high-smoking population also comes with millions lost in productivity, especially by smokers who must take smoke breaks and losses may be significant in T&T, considering its global rank in the tobacco use, Ramlogan said.

While profits are increasing for WITCO, more bodies are going into the ground as a direct result, he said.

In 2008, the company saw a before tax profit of $282 million. This increased steadily, reaching $350 million in 2009, $372 million in 2010, $402 million in 2011 and a record $476 million last year, he said.

Ramlogan said the tobacco industry was “very clever” and had become involved in every aspect of life, sport and culture.

It has a long history in T&T of association with such iconic cultural and sporting events like Great Race, once called the “DuMaurier Great Race” and the WITCO-sponsored Desperados, which has since dropped the name “WITCO” from its title, he said.

These changes occurred following lobbying by the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society, which led to WITCO being forbidden from the open use of its name in events that it sponsors, he added.

The TTSC deserves the country’s praise, as does its chairman, Dr George Laquis, Ramlogan said.

“We have to balance the rights of the citizens and young people against the rights of the tobacco manufacturer, whose sole aim must be to maximise profits,” Ramlogan said, adding that Government is also obligated to international treaties on tobacco control.

Ramlogan said all data coming from countries that have implemented regulations similar to those intended by the Government have shown massive declines in new smokers.

Among those raising concerns about the effectiveness of the regulations being proposed were Independent senators Dr Victor Wheeler and Subhas Ramkhelawan.

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