Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Diane Campbell (left)??in conversation with Caribbean Programme Coordinator, PAHO-CPC, Dr. Bernadette Theodore Gandi (centre) and Dr. Adriana Blanco, Advisor on Tobacco Control, PAHO Washington.

While Barbados’ prevalence rate for tobacco smoking has been relatively constant over the last 15 years, the island will not rest on its laurels, but will remain committed to advancing the articles of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that it ratified in May 2004, and signed in November 2005.

This major point was stressed by Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Diane Campbell, who was speaking to over 50 delegates on behalf of Health Minister Donville Inniss. Her comments came yesterday at the start of the Caribbean Sub-regional Meeting on Tobacco Surveillance and Policy Development. It was hosted by the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) and held at the Accra Beach Resort.

Acknowledging that the island had a relatively low prevalence of tobacco smoking, Ms. Campbell said the latest statistics of the Behaviour Risk Factor Survey 2007 showed 8.4 per cent of the island’s populations were smokers (15.3 per cent being men and 2.2 per cent being women). She reported the average age for initiation of the smoking habit was 19 years and the average number of cigarettes smoked was nine or 10 per day.

Ms. Campbell pointed out that the island had made progress in a number of areas including legislation, regulation, taxation and advertising-related issues. She indicated that in the Budgetary proposals of 2008, the island took "the unprecedented step of increasing taxes on all tobacco products by 100 per cent and removing duty free concessions on all tobacco products at all ports of entry." Ms. Campbell added, this was "in keeping with the provision set out in Article 6 of the FCTC".

She also noted that the Amendment to the Health Services Act Cap 44 would soon be passed in Parliament, "giving the Minister of Health the power to make regulations banning the sale of tobacco products to minors".

The Acting Permanent Secretary stated that the country was still grappling with the introduction of legislation banning smoking in public places. With respect to the expected amendment for minors, she underlined: "This comprehensive piece of legislation goes a long way to protect our young people in our society from the harmful effects of tobacco smoking. In addition, there is specific mention of advertising which targets young people and the civic duties of the retailers and the private sector."

Moreover, Ms. Campbell further stressed that the legislation was timely against the worrisome trend of usage and experimentation with tobacco, reported by the Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2007. It showed an increase in two percentage points over the previous survey conducted in 2003.

While commending the efforts of the National Commission on Chronic Non-communicable Diseases (CNCDs), the Health Promotion Unit of the Health Ministry and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), she lamented the lack of a dedicated desk for tobacco prevention and control. "In developed countries there is a well-structured, well-funded tobacco prevention and control unit. Despite this, Barbados continues to make progress in its obligations under the FCTC," she maintained.

Meanwhile, in her address, Caribbean and PAHO-Programme Coordinator, Dr. Bernadette Theodore Gandi, said the strong response by countries to the FCTC was "a reflection of the right to health by all people". She explained: "It is only through collective action that the complex factors such as trade liberalisation, global marketing, transnational tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and the international movement of counterfeit cigarettes can be tackled in order to reduce the increase in tobacco use."

Dr. Gandi further announced that efforts by the Caribbean Regional Organisation on Standards (CROSQ) to develop a measurement for picture-based warning labels for tobacco packaging were well advanced. "Such a standard will be in line with similar practices in developed countries. The process is well advanced in CROSQ and the draft standard has been circulated to countries for comment," she disclosed.

The regional health expert affirmed that social mobilisation activities related to the new warning labels had gained support from the Bloomberg Global Initiative. She revealed the body had granted four regional NGOs in Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago "to ensure the implementation of strong cigarette warning labels on all tobacco products sold in CARICOM countries". Project activities, she noted, would include lobbying policymakers, awareness raising and the mobilisation of strategic sectors such as the media.

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