Tobacco restrictions: vendors’ hopes smoked

  • The Smoke Shop: Samantha Wainwright, Jasmine Smith, Tiontae Thomas and Owner Michael Heslop. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

    The Smoke Shop: Samantha Wainwright, Jasmine Smith, Tiontae Thomas and Owner Michael Heslop. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Restrictions on tobacco and e-cigarettes are soon to go through Parliament despite vendors’ hopes for amendments.

The news was welcomed by the asthma charity Open Airways as the latest government statistics show that nearly half of Bermuda’s smokers have tried to quit within the last year — the same number as were advised to stop by a doctor.

The survey from November 2013 to December 2014 found that 14 per cent of the population smoke.

Out of men, 14.8 per cent smoke daily, while 5.4 per cent of women were daily smokers.

Daily smokers, who consumed 11 cigarettes a day on average, tended to start the habit at the age of 18.

E-cigarettes and flavoured tobacco were targeted as a risk to minors in the One Bermuda Alliance’s 2014-15 legislative agenda.

Less than two weeks ahead of the latest Throne Speech, the Ministry of Health confirmed that the Tobacco Control Act 2015, first announced in last year’s speech, would proceed as written.

E-cigarettes, initially billed as a less damaging alternative for smokers seeking to quit, have proven to be dangerously enticing to younger people, according to Tracy Nash, a nurse with Open Airways.

“Tobacco companies are not allowed to add flavours to cigarettes, but with e-cigarettes, because they don’t fall under that restriction, they are able to,” Ms Nash said.

“Obviously having bubblegum and strawberry, you have to ask, who are they targeting?”

Nicotine remains toxic when inhaled as a vapour instead of smoke, Ms Nash said, and highly addictive.

Tabled in June, the Act had appeared to some tobacco retailers to have fallen off the legislative radar — but a ministry spokesman said last night that it would proceed.

“The Tobacco Amendment Bill 2015 is scheduled for its second reading in the upcoming Parliamentary session,” the spokesman told The Royal Gazette.

“The ministry undertook much consultation to address vendors’ concerns and queries.

“There had been some misinterpretation of the application of the provisions which has now been clarified. As such, the Bill is proceeding as tabled.

“The changes being introduced are designed to protect children from smoking and to prevent access to tobacco-related products that encourage take-up by youth and continued use in smokers.

“The public is reminded that smoking is among the most significant causes of preventable deaths.”

Parts of the Act have been criticised as heavy-handed by the local tobacco industry. However, according to retailer Charles Pitt, the ministry has shown a degree of flexibility.

Among other businesses, Mr Pitt runs the Matchbox in Washington Mall.

The Act forbids the sale of tobacco products within three metres, roughly ten feet, of confectionery and snacks — a particular challenge for a kiosk-sized shop whose wares include cigarettes.

“They are going to let us put the tobacco products under the counter, so that if you were to walk up, you would not be able to see them,” Mr Pitt said, calling it “a tiny break”.

Michael Heslop, proprietor of the nearby The Smoke Shop, said he agreed that smoking was a health issue, particularly for young people.

“I just want us to meet the same standards as everywhere else,” said Mr Heslop, calling Bermuda’s restrictions excessive.

The fact that the Act had not been passed in the last session of Parliament had given Mr Heslop hope that “they were rewriting it — it never went to the Senate”.

Cigar roller Grant Kennedy had shared the optimism.

“The Act was only on its first reading in Parliament — I thought they were going to make some changes to it,” Mr Kennedy said. “It has never been too far from my mind.”

According to a spokeswoman for the Chamber of Commerce, the group met with health minister Jeanne Atherden and her technical officers to discuss their concerns over the draft Act.

“Our concerns centred around the continued ability of businesses to carry on in business with the amendments in the draft legislation,” she said.

“We were concerned with the unintended consequences of the legislation. At no point were any of the parties present advocating the dismissal of the legislation or questioning the need to protect minors from the dangers of tobacco smoking.”

A concern over the banning of cigars was subsequently allayed by the ministry: cigars are classed as “premium” and can still be sold at public events. Other retailers balked at the stipulation that cigarette warning labels cover 30 per cent of the product, when most imported brands had a 28 per cent coverage, which local merchants would be unlikely to change, while the implementation date of December 31 could be impractical “as it was felt that more time was needed to run down current stocks of already imported, duty paid merchandise”.

“There were other concerns raised by individual members with the ministry promising to review them. At the close of our discussions with the ministry, they promised to take our points into consideration,” the spokeswoman said.

She added: “Ideally the members felt that more discussion was warranted and that a fair solution could be reached in the interest of all parties concerned.”

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Published Nov 3, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 3, 2015 at 8:26 am)

Tobacco restrictions: vendors’ hopes smoked

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