A private sector attorney identified many apparent flaws in the draft Tobacco Bill during the Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Marriott Beach Resort Wednesday.
Even though he is a non-smoker and anti-smoking advocate, Murali Ram of Quin and Hampson pointed out more than a dozen sections of the white paper bill that he said need attention. But Mr. Ram thought the lack of guiding regulations a more fundamental problem to eliciting meaningful feedback on the proposed legislation.
‘No regulations have been circulated and the finer points of the bill are left to be dealt with the regulations,’ he said. ‘The danger with that is that regulations don’t have to be passed by parliament.’
Mr. Ram said the Government could essentially introduce any tobacco guidelines it wanted to through the regulations.
‘It’s a blank cheque, basically.’
Without the regulations, Mr. Ram said it would be very difficult for business owners to say whether the bill was satisfactory or not.
Some sections of the law that apparently referred to the non-existent regulations were discussed by Mr. Ram.
Under the part that deals with packaging and labelling, the draft law states that tobacco cannot be manufactured, sold or imported unless its packaging displays ‘the required prescribed information’ with regard to a number of issues. Since nothing else in the law prescribes the required information, Mr. Ram said he assumed it would be prescribed by the regulations.
‘Without the regulations, we don’t know how onerous [the labelling requirement] is on businesses,’ he said. ‘We need to see the regulations before we can really comment on it.’
Other aspects of the bill that refer to the non-existent regulations include the tobacco quantity or number of units that must be in a package to be sold legally. Mr. Ram said he would hope the regulations would stipulate the quantities or number of units available on the market, otherwise businesses might have to bear additional costs to repackage tobacco products.
Mr. Ram also pointed out several other anomalies with the proposed legislation.
Part two of the bill requires people who sell or import tobacco products to apply for a licence within three months of the commencement of the law. However, the bill makes no provisions for the application for such a licence after that time, as would be the case with a new business.
That clause and others in the bill seem to be written with individuals in mind rather than businesses, Mr. Ram also pointed out. One section of the bill, which deals with offences and penalties, calls for imprisonment of the owner of a premises that fails to enforce a smoke-free policy.
‘What if the owner is a company? You can’t send a company to prison,’ Mr. Ram said, adding that if the directors of a company could face the same penalties, then the law should state that.
Mr. Ram raised other issues with the section dealing a business owner’s responsibility under the law to enforce a smoke-free policy in the establishment.
If someone refused to stop smoking in a public place, business owners could be guilty of a crime under the proposed bill even if they asked them to stop.
‘To what extent do you have to take affirmative action to prevent someone from smoking on your premises?’ he asked, wondering if businesses needed to hire security guards to enforce the law or to have a hose ready to douse a smoker with water if he refused to stop smoking.
With regard to the licences that would be required by the businesses that wished to import or sell tobacco under the provisions of the new law, Mr. Ram noted that copies of the application would have to be sent to the Commissioner of Police, the Chief Fire Officer and the Executive Secretary of the Central Planning Authority, all of whom would have to respond within 14 days as to whether their premises were suitable for purposes proposed.
Mr. Ram wondered what purpose the section was, particularly with getting approval from the Chief Fire Officer.
‘You start to wonder why [the provision] is there,’ he said. ‘It starts becoming very cumbersome.’
The proposed legislation would also require importers and wholesale distributors of tobacco products to provide the Medical Officer of Health with information about the product and its emissions. But the law does not give any indication of what level of detail is required or the frequency of reporting such information.
‘How much do you want me to tell you and how often?’ Mr. Ram asked. ‘Every month? Every six months? Every year? Just once? The bill should say.’
Another section of the bill allows retailers of tobacco products to post a sign indicating ‘the specified products or brands available for sale’. In the same section it states ‘the brand elements shall not be visibly displayed’.
Mr. Ram said the contradiction did not make sense.
‘This section needs to be more carefully drafted, because as it is, it’s not workable.’
There were also several problems with the definitions of terms in the bill on which Mr. Ram commented. Terms like ‘counter top display’, ‘enclosed public place’, and ‘place of collective use’ were either not defined or poorly defined in the bill.
Place of collective use was particularly problematic because it could refer to the beach or even the public roads.
‘Is the beach a place open to the public or a public place?’ he asked
Since tobacco use would be prohibited in places of collective use, Mr. Ram wondered if it meant that even if you were in your own car with the windows up that you could not smoke on public roads.
During the question and answer segment of the luncheon, businessman Robert Hamaty said it was obvious the bill was flawed and a waste of money.
‘It seems like they just took White Out to the Liquor Licensing Law,’ he said.
Medical Officer for Health Dr. Kiran Kumar admitted there were some problems with the proposed legislation.
‘The bill is not perfect,’ he said. ‘And I do agree we have issues with the regulations – we need to have them.’
However, Mr. Kumar said the main purpose of the white paper was to elicit public input and find out just what was wanted from the legislation.
‘At this point in time, the Minister [Anthony Eden] is very, very open to suggestions.’