KINGSTON, Jamaica, CMC – There seems to be disagreement within the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) government over the implementation of a ban on smoking in public places.
Former national security minister and government senator, K.D. Knight, has said he is prepared to join people in protesting the measure and wants the issue debated in Parliament.
But Attorney General Patrick Atkinson has told the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper that “the real concern is not about debating in Parliament.
“The concerns are for those who smoke, who want to have the right to continue to smoke where they please and it is not appropriate,” Atkinson said, adding, “I don’t think there is anything to debate. The matter has been debated to the fullest. It has been debated in the Cabinet”.
But Knight, addressing a PNP South West St. Catherine constituency over the weekend, said that he was also opposed to the mandatory sentences for persons caught smoking publicly.
He said there is no mandatory sentence for people caught smoking marijuana which is an illegal substance, but there is a mandatory sentence for smoking cigarettes, which is a legal substance.
“I am not anti-party, but I am pro-people and I am prepared to demonstrate with the people for the changes,” Knight said, suggesting that as a form of protest, 100 people, including managers and doctors, would convene at an office, and light their cigarettes as the health minister enters.
“It is rubbish to send a man to prison for smoking a cigarette in his yard because you deem it a workplace,” Knight said.
Under the new regulation anyone found guilty of violating the law are liable for a fine of J$50,000 (One Jamaica dollar = US$0.10 cents) and/or three months’ imprisonment for the first offence. In the case of a second conviction, persons face up to J$500,000 in fines and/or jail time of six months, or up to 12 months’ imprisonment for subsequent offences.
Atkinson acknowledged that the penalties might be harsh, but said they were not mandatory and are left up to the judge’s discretion.
“They are maximum sentences upon which the judge will have discretion on exactly how far they will go towards it. It’s not a situation where the emphasis should be placed on the very few. It is not something that is good for children and ordinary persons who don’t smoke, and there is a duty on the Government and the society to protect those people.
“This is an unhealthy exercise. It is not a recreational thing that everybody does. Second-hand smoke does kill and we had to do something about it and that is where the focus should be,” he added.
Tourism Minister, Dr. Wykeham McNeil, says an inter-ministry task force has been established to look at concerns about implications of the ban in the hotel sector and that any decision for a possible amendment would come from the recommendation of the task force.
“I’m not certain whether an amendment is necessary. This technical team will have discussions and get back to us by the latest the end of next week or early the following week. We will then look at what recommendations come back.”
The ban on smoking in public places came into effect on July 15, in keeping with a June 25 announcement by Health Minister, Dr. Fenton Ferguson.
The regulations require that “no smoking” signs be posted at places of work, government buildings, educational institutions and health facilities including pharmacies.
The move is part of Jamaica’s thrust to meet its international obligations, to enact measures to reduce the use of tobacco, and exposure to tobacco smoke.