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Tobacco Use: Jamaica

Tobacco Use: Jamaica

There have been implementations which aim to deter and reduce tobacco consumption. These laws and regulations may appear as though they arose out of the blue, despite general knowledge of the harms which are associated with smoking. As a result, this article will aim to highlight what exactly prompted the Jamaican government to clampdown on public cigarette consumption.

Smoking has been a longstanding source of contention, especially when it comes to legislation. Smoking has long been deemed dangerous to one’s health with a host of possible health complications which may arise as a result. It was concluded secondhand smoke - smoke from a burning cigarette combined with smoke being expelled from a smoker’s lungs - from cigarettes is just as harmful if not more than a filtered puff from the rolled stick of tobacco. A cigarette contains the addictive compound known as nicotine, and many harmful chemicals and components, over 7,000 chemicals in fact, at least 70 of which are known carcinogens. Notably, the combined revenues of the 6 largest tobacco companies in the world was calculated to exceed USD 340 Billion, a figure which is over 2400% larger than Jamaica’s Gross National Income.


Tobacco Use Within Jamaica

Though tobacco cultivation is a small contribution to Jamaica’s agricultural sector (approximately 0.17%, 2014), 2014 was concluded with 1605 metric tons of tobacco growth within the island. 2015 data confirms that men over the age of 15 partake in daily tobacco consumption more than women - 29.9% and 5.9%, respectively. This remains the case for the age 10-15 cohort though not by such a great disparity - 0.9% male children 10-15 y.o. and 0.81% for female children 10-15 y.o. As such, the rate of death for men was double that for women (in 2012).

Both sets of statistics for both categories of the male demographic are noted to be less than the average in countries with a high Human Development Index (HDI). On the contrary, Jamaica is recorded to have a high percentage of female smokers when compared to countries with a high HDI. Briefly, the HDI of a country is a measure of a country’s most important resource: its people. This tool was implemented by the United Nations to assess a country’s social and economic development. HDI is determined based on:

  • A life expectancy index (Indicators: life expectancy at birth)
  • Education index (Indicators: expected years of schooling, mean years of schooling)
  • Gross National Income (GNI) index (Indicators: GNI per capita)


World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged a tobacco epidemic which is thought to be fueled by globalization’s by-products such as global marketing; foreign investment and trade liberalization. The WHO wishes to reduce tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was conceptualized, first opening for signatures in June 2003. As a result, 180 countries having committed to the cause as of March 2016, which represents approximately 87% of the global population. Countries who wish to join the convention are still permitted via an accession process. With the exception of Haiti, all CARICOM member states have assented to the treaty. Jamaica was the 73rd country and ninth in the Americas to become an official party of the treaty on July 7, 2005, which translates to the Jamaican government having a legal obligation to conform and implement provisions be they laws or regulations which support the treaty’s vision. Additionally, the country adopted the National Strategic and Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases 2013 - 2018. This further binds them to comply to the treaty, given the nature of health complications which may arise as a result of exposure to tobacco and its by-products. In relation to Jamaica, the WHO reported that 11% of non-communicable diseases within the island can be attributed to tobacco. More specifically:


  • 10% of lower respiratory deaths;
  • 8% of tuberculosis deaths;
  • 6% of ischemic heart disease; and,
  • 71% of deaths by respiratory cancer (tracheal, bronchial, lung)

are recorded to be as a result of tobacco exposure.

The framework outlined by the WHO FCTC treaty provides provisions for tobacco control primarily via a public health preservation platform, which will additionally reduce the social, environmental and economic consequences. The treaty outlines tackling both demand and supply of the now, contraband. Measures include:

  • An increase in the price and associated tax of tobacco products;
  • Protection from tobacco smoke exposure;
  • Regulation of the contents of tobacco products and their disclosures;
  • Packaging and labels of tobacco products;
  • Education, communication, training and public awareness;
  • Demand reduction measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation; and,
  • An exhaustive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship


Jamaican Regulations

Pursuant to the WHO FCTC treaty, the Jamaica’s Ministry of Health Under the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations, 2013, Jamaica officially banned smoking in public places, with an amendment added in 2014. These places include but are not limited to:

  • Health facilities (hospital, pharmacies, etc.)
  • Areas specified for children (anyone under the age of 18)
  • Public transport
  • Government occupied buildings
  • Enclosed work spaces (including vehicles or any area used for professional obligations)

This Act also informs business places to have a sign prohibiting smoking in their vicinity. This sign should be hung at eye level with dimensions of at least 216mm x 279mm. It will be considered an offense if an individual is identified smoking a tobacco product or simply holding a lit product within 5 metres (approximately 16.5ft) of the places detailed earlier in the Act, including the aforementioned which were highlighted. Within vehicles used professionally or by the public should have a sign of their own of approximately 76mm x 229mm. It is also a criminal offense to operate a business selling tobacco at the entrances and exits of:

  • Government owned busineses
  • Health facilities
  • Educational institutions
  • Sports, athletic and recreational facilities used by the public

Those in violation of this law will be fined:

The Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations, 2013 also addresses the packaging of tobacco related products, stating that at least 75% of the container should bear a health warning.



First offence: the individual will be charged a fine not exceeding JMD$10,000, with no threat of imprisonment.

Second offence: the individual will be charged a fine not exceeding JMD$25,000, with no threat of imprisonment.

Third offence: the individual will be charged a fine not exceeding JMD$50,000, with no threat of imprisonment.


Given that Jamaica signed the WHO FCTC treaty in 2005, it begs the question of the legislative delay. There were many measures highlighted by the WHO FCTC which need to be adhered to so as to avoid litigious actions. The measures outlined in the WHO FCTC treaty made to address demand and supply of tobacco products will require advancement in many areas for Jamaica. At the moment, they seem to be on track as it relates to price and tax measures, packaging and public exposure. I do however think we have ways to go as it relates to education, public awareness and cessation efforts. This will require health care facilities to have wings properly attuned to address addiction and rehabilitation. Effective programmes will have to be designed and implemented to ensure proper compliance. In fact, despite the Act being legislated, stipulating a ban on smoking in public, there has been little observed reduction of this activity. This is due in part to business owners not having enough authority to deter their patrons.

It should be noted that though not a mandatory requirement under law, business proprietors are permitted to establish an area specifically designated for smoking, given that it meets the design regulations and permitted mode of operations:

  1. The area must be physically and structurally unconnected to an area in which smoking is prohibited, approximately 10 metres (approximately 32.9ft) away.
  2. The area should not be within 10 metres of walkways, or areas frequently travelled or used for entertainment purposes.
  3. The area should be open sided: no walls or any form of enclosure. In the event that the area is covered by a roof to provide shelter, the only additions permitted will be columns supporting the roof.
  4. There shall be no sale, distribution, promotion or branding of tobacco products
  5. Children are not permitted entry
  6. There will be no form of entertainment within the area
  7. It is understood that once within the area, individuals will not be served by staff
  8. Smoking within the area is prohibited once it is being cleaned or otherwise services by members of staff


I hope this proved to be informative. Though it may be agreed that it could have been handled more efficiently by the government, their intentions were sound. Going forward, it is my hope that information dispersal is not limited to those privileged enough to have it laid out for them. Nonetheless, knowledge is power and it is our responsibility as a people to seek it.

Remember to subscribe to our blog to stay informed on all things Caribbean. I will be delving into how other countries within the region have taken steps to comply with the WHO convention, marijuana use and vaping in the near future.





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