Dr. Vera da Costa e Silva, Head of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat,
Representatives from the CARICOM Secretariat,
Delegates from Ministries, Departments and Agencies of governments from across the Caribbean,
Delegates from Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Government of Jamaica,
Representatives from civil society,
Members of the Media,
Ladies and gentlemen all,
And a very special welcome to our visitors from outside of Jamaica.
It has been 14 years since Jamaica ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Treaty. A lot of progress has since been made in the Caribbean, in advancing the demand reduction provisions of that treaty, including the implementation of smoke-free legislation, graphic health warnings and taxation policies.
We gather today and over the next two days for deliberations – made possible through partnership with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat – to advance the implementation of the supply reduction measures of the treaty and, in particular, Article 15: Protocol on Illicit Trade.
Ladies and gentlemen, a growing international illicit trade in tobacco products is a clear and present danger to public health in the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
The illicit trade increases the accessibility and affordability of tobacco products, thus fueling the tobacco epidemic, which, the WHO tells us, kills some 8 million people each year. More than 7 million are the result of direct tobacco use and more than one million the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
These are not statistics to which we can turn a blind eye and certainly not when we consider our youth, who are most vulnerable to the illicit trade in tobacco products. The Global Youth Tobacco Survey tells us, for example, that for Jamaica in 2017:
- 6% of students (15.9% of boys, and 15% of girls) used tobacco products.
- 4% of students (14.4% of boys, and 13.9% of girls) smoked tobacco.
- 2% of students (11.1% of boys, and 10.9% of girls) smoked cigarettes.
- And 2.6% of students (2.8% of boys, and 2.5% of girls) used smokeless tobacco.
At the same time, we have the burgeoning epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – notably cardiovascular disease, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes – which is a significant public health challenge for Caribbean populations.
NCDs, we know, are caused by five major behavioural risk factors, among them tobacco use – which is also the most preventable.
The illicit trade also undermines tobacco control policies and causes substantial losses to government revenues while contributing to the funding of transnational criminal activities. A reported 9 to 11 per cent of the global cigarette market is illicit, reaching 50% or more in low and middle-income countries.
Estimates show that if the illicit trade in tobacco were eliminated globally, governments would gain at least US$30 billion annually in tax revenue, and one million premature deaths would be avoided every six years due to higher average cigarette prices and lower consumption.
Fortunately for us, with requirements for a tracking and tracing regime, as well as global information sharing – including of records of investigations and prosecutions – we have in the Protocol a tool to arrest the scourge of the illicit trade in tobacco products and the associated public health risk. However, it cannot work for us if it is not ratified.
Understanding this, we are taking the necessary steps in Jamaica for its ratification and effective implementation. We are to make a Cabinet submission on the matter by the end of this month and have, up to now, made a number of other moves.
These include collaboration among Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of Government to seize illicit products and prosecute offenders for offences related to illicit tobacco products; in addition to ongoing sensitisation activities involving various stakeholders on the Protocol.
There is no question that the ratification of the Protocol is a critical step in tackling the illicit trade in tobacco products and the related public health threat. It will also provide an important basis for international cooperation in health from which all stakeholders can benefit.
Let us work together to make the protocol’s ratification and associated public health benefits a reality for the Caribbean.
Dr. the Hon. Christopher Tufton, MP
Minister of Health and Wellness