Smoking law frustration builds

There is growing frustration with the time it is taking government to pass and implement its Tobacco Law, which was meant to bring the Cayman Islands more into line with the Western world in its approach to smoking in public places.

Havana Club Bar

From left, visitors from Ontario, Canada, Patrick and Bill McGregor enjoy Cuban cigars at the Havana Club Bar Monday. The Government has indicated it will consider an exemption for cigar bars in its proposed Tobacco Law. Meanwhile, anti-smoking campaigners are growing increasingly frustrated with the time it is taking the Government to pass and implement the proposed legislation. Photo: James Dimond

Cayman Islands Cancer Society Medical Director, Dr. Sook Yin said the legislation seems to be languishing.

‘Every day people are smoking and dying from this awful habit, which is so preventable. It is frustrating that we have this [proposed legislation] but it hasn’t been put into action,’ she said.

‘All around the world, this law has been passed. Even in India they have managed to get their act together.’

Health Minister Anthony Eden, who has previously been a vocal proponent of anti-smoking measures, has not returned repeated calls from the Caymanian Compass over a period of months asking whether the legislation has been shelved. In the past three-weeks, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts has also not responded to similar questions.

The PPM Government first indicated that it would introduce anti-smoking legislation in mid-2005 but the law did not make it to the Legislative Assembly until March 2007, in the form of a discussion white paper bill.

A 60-day public consultation period followed in which concern was voiced that the legislation was ambiguous, contained errors, and did not include regulations that would make the law’s operation clearer.

At a press conference in July, Mr. Eden said he hoped a refined bill would come before the LA during the meeting that began 31 August but the bill never appeared.

Nor was any mention of the law made at during Legislative Assembly sittings in November and December 2007.

‘I really, really hope our Minister of Health has the health of the Cayman Islands people first and foremost in his mind when he is debating this and going about putting this law into place,’ said Ms Yin. ‘That has to be the No. 1 consideration.’

She said she is concerned the Government is watering down the legislation because of pressure from commercial interests.

Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush – who has previously called for even stronger anti-smoking measures to be introduced – questioned whether the political will existed to get the law through.

‘The Government has talked about many things but when it comes to political will, they don’t have it,’ he said.

‘They say things because people want to hear it, but when they get a little pressure, they back off.

‘This one is serious,’ he warned, ‘because second-hand smoke is one of the main causes of cancer.’

Ms Yin lamented that the delay could be harming the health of residents and visitors.

She pointed to the effect a smoking ban in Scotland has had. Hospital admissions for heart attacks in Scotland dropped 17 per cent the year after anti-smoking legislation was introduced.

‘This is what can be achieved in a short period of time,’ she said. ‘Every month that passes and we sit on this we could be saving someone’s life or preventing young kids from taking up smoking.’

In its draft form, the Tobacco Law would have banned smoking in public places including bars, restaurants and any other ‘place of collective use’.

It would also have put prohibitions on the sale and promotion of tobacco products, including a clause making it illegal to sell cigarettes to minors.

One of the changes to the draft bill that government said it would consider was an exemption for cigar bars.

Owner of Havana Club cigar bars at the West Shore Center and Regency Court, Raglan Roper, noted that cigar bars cater specifically to cigar smokers.

Mr. Roper recently re-opened his Regency Court location, which was forced to close because of extensive damage from Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

After investing large amounts of money in state-of-the-art technology that ensures little smoke lingers in his venues, he is hoping he doesn’t have to close down all over again

Smoking bans spread

The delay in introducing the Tobacco Law comes at a time when countries around the world, and throughout the Caribbean, are introducing smoking bans

Bermuda began enforcing a smoking ban in October 2006. Puerto Rico went further in March 2007, extending the ban on smoking in confined places to include private cars with children younger than 13 inside. The British Virgin Islands followed suit in mid-2007 with a ban on smoking in all confined places.

Bans on smoking in enclosed public places now exist in most Western European countries; Canada; Australia; New Zealand most states in the USA; Kenya, Tanzania; Kazakhstan; Singapore; Bhutan; India; parts of China, including Hong Kong; Israel; Turkey; Uruguay; and Brazil;