T&T Tobacco Companies Blantantly Ignore Tobacco Laws
Did You Know That Single Cigarette Should Only Be Sold In Wrappers Labeled:
"SMOKING IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH"
In 2009, the Trinidad and Tobago Government passed the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, and in 2013 additional Regulations strengthened the Act.
Ostensibly the regulations were added because a number of studies highlighted per capita rate of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) in Trinidad and Tobago.
Treatment of NCDs has a direct cost investment in the maintenance of health and life. The cost of this destructive habit does not end with the high cost of cigarettes. Quiting smoking can reduce incidence of potential ailments like heart attack, cancer, strokes.
The purpose of the act was to accomplish the following:
1. Protect citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke,
2. Prevent smoking by young people,
3. To restrict promotional activities by tobacco manufacturers,
4. Improve public awareness of the dangers of tobacco use, and
5. Ensure that consumers are provided with enough information to make more informed decisions on using tobacco products
Now how is that working for us?
1. Protecting Citizens from Exposure to Tobacco Smoke
You may remember, the first few days after the bill was passed, a man was arrested for smoking in a bar.
His case became national news. That was the last time anyone smoked in a bar. Go ahead Laugh out loud.
Main street media focused on this this regulation exclusively.
For example, here is a Newsday article published when the Act was proclaimed. .
The Trinidad Guardian article outlined the purpose of the Act but it too focused on this part of the regulation, maybe because the provisions would affect the general population. They did not do much better; here is what they had to report.
These articles engaged Trinbagonians in a conversation about the issues related to smoking in public. It gave the Act smoking, in effect on protecting now smokers form second hand smoke.
T&T Mass media and all the other enforcement agencies blatantly ignored the rest of the bill. It was as if the Act only affected the common citizen; there was more.
2. Prevent smoking by young people:
The truth is, and to its credit, the agency responsible for advertising has been sharing the dangers of smoking with the use of the mass media. As we, all know these ads, even if they are helpful, cannot work alone.
According to an article written in 2014, 23 percent of youth in Trinidad and Tobago between the ages of 15 to 24 were smokers. Read the article here
The unrestricted access to individual cigarettes is one of the primary reasons for this trend. The lawmakers recognized this and instead of banning the sale of individual cigarettes, they opted to use the following as part of the restriction.
“Where a cigarette is intended to be sold individually, each cigarette shall be wrapped and the message "SMOKING IS DANGEROUS" shall be displayed conspicuously on the wrapper”.
Have you ever seen such a wrapper?
3. To Restrict Promotional Activities by Tobacco Companies
Now here is where it gets interesting. According to the Act, tobacco companies operating in T&T must to specifics stipulations with respect to promoting and packaging cigarettes.
These include the labeling and a schedule of photos they are required to post on the cartoons and cases.
It would appear that the authors of the Act gave the Tobacco companies wide leeway when it specified that these images only appear on cartons and cases.
The Act specifically states that anti-smoking images should not be placed on individual packs.
Specific images that MUST be placed on cartoons and cases can be viewed on this pdf document; you will have to scroll to the bottom of the page.
Cartons and cases are usually only seen by distributors NOT the majority of consumers.
The big question is have you ever seen these pictures on a carton?
Even with the advantage of not having to place the images on packs, the Tobacco companies have failed to comply with this aspect of the law.
Can you blame them; they have been not doing it for years. In addition, it would increase their cost even if it does nothing to reduce smoking in this country.
The enforcement agencies ignore these infractions.
4. Improve Public Awareness:
Let us face it, except for mass media ads, the only time that the public awareness was a few days after the passage of the Act in January 2013. The real question behind this regulation is; who pays for this awareness? Who pays for the mass media ads?
Usually funds can be generated from the enforcement of the law, from fines and penalties. It would appear that that because the law is not being enforced or only enforced on the general population.
What is odd here is that we know these ads do not work.
If you think they work, look at this Trinidad & Tobago 2011 (Ages 13-15) Global Youth Tobacco Survey
The entire survey results are full of interesting information. Each section is interesting; the numbers tell its own story. For the purpose of the point here, is what it said about the effect of advertising:
Media and Advertising
• 75.8% saw anti-smoking media messages, in the past 30 days
• 57.3% saw pro-cigarette ads on billboards or TV, in the past 30 days
• 49.0% saw pro-cigarette ads in newspapers or magazines, in the past 30 days
• 10.2% have an object with a cigarette brand logo
• 10.0% were offered free cigarettes by a tobacco company representative
They are getting the mass media messages but smoking among youth is increasing.
You can view the entire results of the Survey Here.
Finally, the last intention of the Act was to:
Ensure that consumers are provided with enough information to make more informed decisions on using tobacco products
This I leave to you, do you think that this is happening?
Do you think that if the tobacco companies complied with the law smoking will be reduced?
What should the Ministry of Health do about this? Is it their responsibility?
What can you do?