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‘Draconian’ tobacco legislation delayed

“Punitive and draconian” tobacco legislation brought to the House of Assembly has been delayed for the Minister of Health to rise and report progress after rigorous opposition from the Progressive Labour Party.

While Jeanne Atherden emphasised the need to prevent people from becoming addicted to nicotine, Opposition MPs expressed concerns that the legislation went too far.

The Tobacco Control Act 2015 was announced in last year's Throne Speech and tabled this summer, sparking criticism from local tobacco vendors.

Detailing the legislation, Mrs Atherden said the regulations would provide stricter controls for the sale of cigars, cigarettes and e-cigarettes, while classifying rolling papers as a tobacco product.

“In considering this Bill, we must all remember that smoking is the most significant cause of preventable death worldwide, and that the economic burden of death and disability due to tobacco use and nicotine abuse is staggering and avoidable,” she said.

“The World Health Organisation has set voluntary targets of a 30 per cent reduction in the prevalence of tobacco. According to the STEPS survey 2014, 14 per cent of Bermuda residents are smokers and one quarter of our population reports they are exposed to second-hand smoke once a week or more.”

Among the elements of the legislation are harsher fines for selling tobacco products to minors, a ban on the sale of single cigarettes and stricter rules about how stores are to display cigarettes.

Mrs Atherden said that e-cigarettes would also be more strictly controlled, describing them as a potential gateway to smoking for young people and stating there was a public misconception that they were a healthier alternative. However, she acknowledged that the products could also be used to help people quit smoking.

Michael Weeks, the Shadow Minister of Health, said the Progressive Labour Party supported the intention of the Bill, but argued that it was “a little too far reaching”. As a former smoker, he said that purchasing individual cigarettes rather than packages was one of the strategies he had used to cut back.

He also argued that the Bill would negatively affect smaller stores who not only sell the single cigarettes, but who might not have the space to keep cigarettes and sweets 3 metres apart, as required by the legislation.

Mr Weeks also suggested that new regulations of cigars would hurt cigar sales by not allowing customers to handle them before purchase.

“How far are we going to go to regulate if a consulting adult wants to have a cigarette or not?” he asked.

PLP backbencher Kim Wilson expressed similar statements, saying while she supported the objectives of the legislation, there were elements in it that should be addressed.

Meanwhile, Jamahl Simmons, the Shadow Minister of Tourism and Economic Development, said the legislation appeared to treat smoking as a criminal issue rather than a health issue, noting that smoking in banned areas such as an enclosed public space would carry a maximum fine of $5,000.

He suggested a more effective approach would be to increase the cost of tobacco products by raising tax rates, which would give smokers an incentive to quit.

Marc Bean, the Leader of the Opposition, labelled the strict regulations as “a sledgehammer approach to deal with an issue that might just require a flyswatter”, adding: “The majority of people are not aware of the ramifications of this legislation.”

Opposition MPs called on One Bermuda Alliance MPs to rise and report and modify the Bill.

The Bill went into committee over the Opposition's objections, with Speaker of the House Randy Horton maintaining that several PLP MPs had risen while Marc Bean alone had stood.

Ms Atherden agreed to rise and report to look at objections along with what she termed “misinformation” about the Act.

Raising concerns: Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health, emphasised the need to prevent people from becoming addicted to nicotine (File photograph)

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Published December 05, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 05, 2015 at 8:40 am)

‘Draconian’ tobacco legislation delayed

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