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House: criticised tobacco legislation passes

The Tobacco Control Act 2015 passed in the House of Assembly yesterday after a series of amendments.

The Act had been tabled with the aim of improving Bermuda's overall health and preventing children from taking up smoking, but became the subject of fierce debate.

The Progressive Labour Party branded some of its measures as “punitive and draconian”, prompting Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health, to rise and report progress. The debate resumed yesterday after a series of amendments by Ms Atherden.

“Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the world and in Bermuda,” said Ms Atherden, as she clamped down on promotional offers and advertising, and banned the sale of flavoured tobacco altogether, which she claimed had caused a rise in smoking among those between the ages of 18 and 24.

Other new measures include forbidding retailers from displaying tobacco products in their shops, or placing them within three metres of children's items such as toys or sweets.

Marc Bean, the Leader of the Opposition, who previously labelled the proposed regulations as “a sledgehammer approach to deal with an issue that might just require a flyswatter”, voiced his continued disappointment with the Act yesterday, despite the changes.

“Our position is that this Bill cannot be enforced, doesn't make sense and is overreaching. It's an additional burden on individuals and businesses,” said Mr Bean, adding that the responsibility to protect children from tobacco should be with families rather than retailers.

Other PLP members took umbrage to Ms Atherden's attempt to outlaw the sale of individual cigarettes.

“Many people who smoke the singles are trying to stop, so they aren't buying packs. This is a nonsense,” said Opposition MP Zane DeSilva.

Ms Atherden also raised hackles in her attempt to ban the sale of tobacco products in sports and recreational facilities.

David Burt, the Shadow Minister of Finance, said: “Community clubs are not just places of sport. You are taking revenue away which can be legitimately earned, and we know that our community clubs are struggling. It doesn't make sense.”

Shawn Crockwell, the Minister of Tourism Development and Transport, claimed that the Act would help to alleviate Bermuda's “out of control” healthcare bill.

“We're trying to reduce costs, we need to come up with initiatives to do so, and this is one of them,” he said.

Ms Atherden agreed to scrap the single cigarette and community club proposals, but urged her fellow MPs to remain vigilant in their attempts to reduce smoking.

After the debate, Michael Weeks, the Shadow Minister of Health, said he was pleased by the compromises.

“I'm happy that the minister finally listened. It's a common sense of victory for the retailers,” he said. “We have been going back and forth and back and forth on this. It took almost two full days, but I'm glad that we got something done.”

The Tobacco Control Act 2015 will come into effect on July 31.

Act amendments: Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health, was criticised for wanting to ban the sale of single cigarettes (File photograph by David Skinner)

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Published December 17, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 17, 2015 at 8:12 am)

House: criticised tobacco legislation passes

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