Smoking gun

Newsday Editorial
Thursday, November 27 2008

SmokingThe Tobacco Bill now being debated in Parliament seems to be a case of using a shotgun to kill a mosquito. And, as with a shotgun, there is the danger of injuring innocent bystanders while the mosquito flies free.

To be sure, smoking leads to major health problems for many people. Heart disease, strokes, and cancer are three of the five leading causes of death in Trinidad and Tobago, and all these diseases have been linked to tobacco use. But, at the heart of this issue is the question of rights, including people’s right to harm themselves. A smoker, after all, chooses to smoke. Since people own their bodies (save in slave cultures) it is therefore their right to do as they please with themselves. In respect to tobacco legislation, two main counter-arguments to this position are generally proffered: first, that advertising persuades people to start and continue smoking; and, secondly, that second-hand smoke is as harmful as smoking itself.

The first argument is really applicable only to children, and in this regard legislation should certainly be as punitive as possible. Otherwise, it cannot be assumed in the absence of evidence that adults are so easily brainwashed by advertising and, in any case, tobacco advertising on the electronic media has long vanished due to a self-imposed ban by the tobacco companies (who no doubt wished to avoid the kind of legal action brought against them by nicotine addicts in the United States and other countries). The second argument, despite claims to the contrary by several MPs, is not a settled issue – the scientific evidence that prolonged exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke causes health problems is still equivocal.

What the Independent Senators have been particularly concerned about, however, are the penalties imposed on citizens for breaching this proposed law. Senator Ramesh Deosaran has pointed to sums ranging from $20,000 to $1 million for selling cigarettes to under-aged persons and other transgressions, in addition to jail time, while Senator Helen Drayton has noted that the Bill in effect invades the privacy of the home by allowing a domestic worker to take action against her employer for smoking. There are two problems with these clauses: they contravene the basic jurisprudential principle that punishment must be proportional to the seriousness of the transgression; and, two, they give the State an excuse to chip away at Sector 4 (c) of the Constitution – “the right of the individual to respect for his private and family life.”

Apart from these issues, the unworkability of the Bill has also been raised: will these laws really be enforced? It cannot be reasonably argued that a draconian Bill is justified because it sends a strong message about the dangers of tobacco use. Passing legislation which cannot or will not be enforced sends an even stronger message about the vapidity of rule of law, and this is not an attitude which any government should want to foster. Besides, legislation in itself will not lead to a reduction in tobacco use.

At the heart of this Bill is a question of political philosophy: should the State impose its authority on citizens for their own good, or should citizens be allowed to make their own choices, even to their detriment? Finding a balance between these two poles has always been the central challenge for modern societies, but history shows that erring in favour of the latter is usually the wiser course.,90668.html

9 thoughts on “Smoking gun”

  1. Why when discussing undecided legislation concearning the affairs of the people of Trinidad and Tobago is there a reference to the United States?

    My personal opinion in regards to smoking is that it should be banned in all places where children have to be present and places where they are likely to go. Schools, sports stadiums, stores, and homes (if children live there) should be smoke free. Perhaps Government buildins should also be smoke free. I think bars and any business catering toward adults should remain places where smoking is permissiable. Adults can decide for themeselves if they want to frequent or work for establishments where smokers are likely to be.

  2. The Tobacco Control Bill

    By Dana Seetahal
    Sunday 23rd November, 2008

    Last week, the Tobacco Control Bill came before the Senate for debate. It is an ambitious and draconian Bill. Undoubtedly, it will find favour among many persons who are against smoking.

    That, however, ought not to determine whether it should be passed, since possessing and smoking tobacco and tobacco products remain legal.

    Yet, when one reads this bill, one might believe that such is not the case, and that tobacco is a dangerous illegal drug.

    The penalty for possession of a dangerous drug, such as cocaine, marijuana or heroin, is, on summary conviction, a fine of $25,000 or five years’ imprisonment. The penalty is the same for trafficking a dangerous drug if tried summarily (before a magistrate).

    In relation to proposed tobacco offences, such as, for example, those related to tobacco sponsorships, where it will be prohibited to publicise the name of the sponsoring entity, the offence may only be tried on indictment before a judge and jury: there is no option to be tried in the Magistrates’ Court.

    This is the case in relation to most other offences in the bill. Ironically, under the current law for firearm offences, drug-trafficking, robbery and unlawful wounding, one may be tried in the Magistrates’ Court.

    Which is more serious?

    Furthermore, the almost standard penalty proposed for these offences is up to five years’ imprisonment and $1 million. Imagine that! $1 million.

    There is no higher fine for any offence in our laws. Tobacco offences, thus, will have the honour of incurring the most severe fines of all other offences.

    Members of the public who might be affected by the laws include not only smokers, but advertisers and industry workers.

    It will be an offence for a person working for a tobacco manufacturer or seller to supply to another a tobacco product free of charge as a sample or gift.

    A person who sells or displays a tobacco product in a manner not prescribed by the (as yet not drafted) regulations commits an offence. In both cases, the penalty is a fine of $1million or five years.

    A similar penalty exists if a person fails to permanently affix on the package/wrapper of a tobacco product a list of the constituents of the product.

    There are a number of such offences related to packaging tobacco products.

    Now, the purpose of this law is said to be to implement the requirements of a WHO convention that we ratified in 2004.

    In that regard, the bill is to prevent tobacco use in young people, enhance awareness of the dangers of smoking, prohibit promotion of tobacco, and protect individuals from exposure to tobacco products.

    Yet, there is no legislation in T&T—existing or proposed—with these aims, in respect of dangerous drugs or alcohol use.

    While the effects of cigarettes are felt after exposure for a long period of time and mostly in terms of illness, the effects of cocaine and heroin use are more immediate.

    Addicts are known to commit the worst crimes to obtain the drug, and personality changes are manifest from such drug use. I have never heard of that in relation to tobacco, but I do recognise that it could be a gateway drug to the more serious drugs.

    Alcohol abuse, too, has been shown to have an immediate effect on individuals, resulting in violence and death.

    The effect of alcohol on driving was recognised by the Government, and legislation that is common in many developing countries—the breathalyser laws—came to Parliament in 2007.

    More than a year later, we are still awaiting its implementation.

    In the light of all of the above, I find it difficult to accept the appearance of altruistic concern by the authorities as to the dangers of cigarette-smoking.

    The dangers have been apparent all along, but no laws were passed to even ban smoking in public places.

    Now we are moving from a position of no regulation at all to the other extreme of not just over-regulation, but of criminalising almost every activity related to tobacco use.

    There is no doubt that it is desirable to prohibit smoking in enclosed public places, but imagine a law that penalises a person from smoking in his private workplace or even his home, if he has a domestic worker employed there.

    Imagine a law that prevents smoking in your private club. Worst of all is a law allowing the minister to appoint persons who may enter public premises or work places at any time without a warrant.

    They may stop and search any vehicle in which they believe tobacco products are contained or conveyed—and these people are not even police officers.

    The Tobacco Bill is not merely draconian; it is a disproportional invasion of individual freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

    In countries where legislation of this extreme type has been passed, it has proved unsuccessful in reducing smoking in young people.

    The Government may do well to consider whether the extreme nature of the law may not serve to glamorise its use and create the opposite effect intended.

  3. If ever the government of Trinidad and Tobago is looking for a country revolt this attempted smoking ban will trigger such. Trinbagonians have learned to live off the land and all thereof including alcohol and tobacco. For the government to be so nieve to think such a ban would succeed is a mere lack of insight and knowledge about the people of the nation. Instead of eraddicating the excellerated rate of murder and other crimes they are trying to attack the very vices that keep the citizens sane. smoking has it’s negative effects but it also has it’s comforts and sense of relaxation for those that indulge; to try to take that away the government is beggin for a war that it never will win. I say to the government leader seeking to introduce such a draconian measure against an already suffering people to leave them alone and focus on other atrocities taking place. Thus far the people have been patient and unwavering in the belief that things will get better but trying to do this will seem as mockery to the nation and that is the last thing this government needs.

  4. Tobacco bill pushes rights boundaries

    Tuesday 2nd December, 2008
    Guardian Editorial

    The overwhelming assumption on the part of those who have crafted this bill seems to be that users of tobacco are simpletons unable to make a decision for themselves.

    It is hard to imagine committed smokers as victims, but after years of steady growth in anti-smoking lobbies, the defiant smoker has all but disappeared.

    The health issues surrounding smoking have led to an erosion in the number of places left available for smokers, but the Tobacco Control Bill, 2008, as originally drafted, seems to be taking injudicious aim at most of what’s left.

    It’s worth noting at this point that smoking tobacco is still a legal pursuit in T&T and remains a lifestyle choice for those of legal age. Cigarette packs in this country carry clearly worded warnings, and cigarettes are sold in public groceries in dispensers that discourage casual access.

    The Tobacco Bill, in seeking to control a substance that has known health risks, has its heart in the right place but seems to have misplaced its brain.

    The overwhelming assumption on the part of those who have crafted this bill seems to be that users of tobacco are simpletons unable to make a decision for themselves.

    This was a bill that set out from the position that an outright ban was unworkable, “acknowledging the existence of vast numbers of persons addicted to tobacco use, making it impractical to make tobacco products illegal.”

    Where the bill stiffens and clarifies penalties for knowingly seeking to hide the consequences of smoking, it sounds all the right notes.

    Cigarettes or cigars sold without legally required health warnings or packages with deliberately obscured warnings leave manufacturers legally liable to fines of $1 million and five years in jail.

    Tobacco products sold in circumstances that make them available to minors such as self-service dispensers attract a fine of $500,000.

    Some existing legal requirements have been given quite sharp teeth, with advertisers or promoters seeking to encourage smoking liable for fines of $1 million and jail terms of five years.

    These are strong measures, but they flow on naturally from earlier efforts at ensuring that tobacco sales are restricted to adults.

    New measures that seek, however inadvertently, to drive tobacco use underground demand strong debate in Parliament.

    Most notable is the amplification of the restrictions on second hand smoke in Clause 8, which governs “involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.” This clause all but commands the creation of smoke rooms in all public places even in private members’ clubs, though subsection four helpfully hints that “nothing in this Act shall require an owner, occupier or employer to designate separately ventilated rooms for smoking.”

    With a penalty of $10,000 a person and separate charges for the owner of the institution, there are real concerns that anyone who employs help in their home and smokes under their own roof would also be liable for these penalties.

    The strength of these new restrictions is likely to have the effect of a ban without the clarity of its outright announcement. Anyone selling cigarettes is likely to take extreme measures to ensure that they are in alignment with these requirements or simply stop selling them entirely.

    Fewer legitimate outlets will make regulation of tobacco products more, not less, difficult and cigarettes may well end up in the distribution channels normally associated with illegal products like marijuana.

    And it is worth noting, as an independent senator observed in a commentary in this newspaper, that some of the proposed penalties in this legislation are more punitive than those associated with the sale of marijuana, which is an illegal drug…and with good cause.

    That cannot be the intent of this legislation, so sensible crafting of penalties and requirements that engage tobacco users as well as protecting those without the maturity to make decisions for themselves would deliver more effective restrictions on tobacco use in T&T.

    ©2008 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

  5. I am RIGID with contempt and disbelief that whoever wrote or attempted to write this legislation is an ACTUAL member of parliament! This individual has no sense of the needs of the country; if he/she did, this attempt to invade the rights and privacy of the citizens never would’ve entered their mind!

    This individual shouls spend time writing legislation on MAKING THE NEEDS OF THE COUNTRY the priority of the government. Where is the legislation mandating the government that FLOODS should only be able to happen on one occasion in an area. Afte the first flood, immediate repairs on the infrastructure should be undertaken.

    Where is the legislation demanding that Crimes involving guns brings an automatic life sentence! Where is the Legislation demanding that Rape brings an automatic life sentence; with both these crimes non-baliable along with Kidnapping in the melee! This is where these Idiots should be focusing not the one vice that keeps most smokers from going insane!

    Last but not least, Where is the Legislation that mandates that the Health and well being of the nations citizens should be first and foremost of utter importance. The PM has suggested that work on the hospital in southern Trinidad will stop, but URP where people are being murdered for positions and “Pay for No work.” If there is such a thing as “The worst government” in the world, this current administration in Trinidad and Tobago will be heading for the Grammy’s.

  6. It looks like another reason to punish people for no reason. If they needed more tax money then why not just ask for it instead of waste everybody time paying fees for something they doing to themselves?

  7. People should be free to light pieces of papers fill with tobacco and stuff them in their mouths a puff smoke about via their noses like idiots if they desire , I agree. However for anyone naively think that this is some harmless / victimless escapade that only affects the culprits ,is very simplistic , and the many disingenuous PNM obsessed frauds hell-bent on Manning and his cast destruction, are fully aware of this fact.
    These clowns upon becoming sick, eventually becomes the responsibility of the state in some fashion- irrespective of their wealth . By their misguided actions, they place an unnecessary burden on our already decrepit health service, not to mention increase the cost of insurance premiums and other social services.
    There is absolutely nothing wrong in using the progressive measure of taxing them 1000 dollars per cartoon for their imbecilic habits as is done in our critics much beloved North America and Europe. We could have reverted to what might be done to ensure compliance to any domestic policy in ‘democratic china or India’ and sentence every smoker to 3 months in jail instead.
    Perhaps someone would tell felix and others that the issues of concern that affects this country such as runaway crime, substandard security , poor infrastructure, staggering unemployment , a constipated economy , and numerous governmental neglect, would be address when our opposition are finally prepared to earn the salaries they are being paid . Let them press the government on issues that matters , and not only selective tribally contentious nonsense such as the PM acceptance of medical service as a gift from Castro, his desire to refurbish the PM residence , cock on a roof of the Red House ,and changing the names of national awards .These nonsense might play well to the constituency base too ignorant to think on their own , but not the nation as a whole that can ensure necessary political change. While they are it let them discourage their base from continually tarnishing the name of our country with preposterous genocidal, terrorist and race based prosecutorial claims, and instead to use their globally acquired skills to help elevate it out side of the public service jobs their prime targets. Anyone privileged to an education beyond standard two can figure out the childish ‘dog with a bone’ mentality game. If we cannot make stride playing by the rules, then we’ll destroy the game if need be. If this nonsense is kept up and gridlock continues , not only another Backer can emerge but perhaps one of our weed smoking , wife swapping Tethron military boys in green might develop some ideas especially with all of the crazy immigrant Nigerian phony doctors and intellectuals that are masquerading around our country busy grabbing our confused local women as they strive to find a passage to their real destination- Yankee land.

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