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Is demise at hand?

Cigarette company Carreras is seeing an imminent demise of the tobacco trade in Jamaica coming from the new tobacco Bill now before Parliament.

In calling for critical engagement on the recently tabled Bill, Carreras Managing Director Raoul Glynn says the Bill in its present form “is of grave concern as its inevitable passage will inadvertently criminalise the legal trade”.

While declaring that Carreras is in no way rejecting the Bill, Glynn implored that “the Government do a full assessment of the industry before instituting any draconian measures that may ultimately lead to the nation’s economic detriment and to the displacement of a key segment of the Jamaican workforce”.

The Bill puts the island in line to satisfy its outstanding obligations under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Treaty, which it ratified some 14 years ago. These are obligations that could not be satisfied under the existing Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations, 2013.

In making a case for more consultation on the Bill, the Carreras managing director argued that when adopting any legislation, an evaluation of the anticipated benefits as well as the drawbacks must be fully taken into consideration, in order to meet the civic needs of the country in question. He contended that this cannot be achieved without the critical engagement of the key players, otherwise the potential law will fall short of its intended mark and regrettably do more harm than good.

WHAT IS AT STAKE?

Glynn chronicled what he believes to be at stake from the likely demise of the industry in Jamaica, pointing to the many social outreach and philanthropic endeavours that could be affected from the implications of the Bill, in addition to lives and livelihood.

1. Carreras’ tertiary student scholarship programme that has contributed approximately J$250 million in educational empowerment.

2. Quality of life for those persons who benefit from Carreras’ community contributions.

3. Industry jobs as well as revenue for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) such as bars.

4.The Youth Access Prevention Programme, the only youth public education scheme that denounces smoking, and is fully funded by Carreras.

5. The growth of the illicit trade, which notoriously finances organised crime; robs governments of taxes; presents legitimate businesses with unfair competition; puts consumers at great risk due to unknown and unregulated manufacturing standards; and facilitates youth access to smoking via bargain pricing and increased proximity.

6. Visibility of legitimate brands with graphic health warnings (GHW), which serve to both educate and discourage consumers. This outcome of the new Bill will lead to decreased public education and awareness of the health risks associated with tobacco products.

7. The constitutional right of Government workers to invest in the legal tobacco trade in securing their own financial futures.

He questioned how the Government will seek to bridge these gaps, noting that if prohibitions of this magnitude are made, then how will they compensate for these impending shortfalls, as failure to do so will guarantee economic recoil. Glynn made reference to The University of the West Indies, Mona, which recently announced a $J1-billion cut in scholarships.

He asked whether a developing nation like Jamaica could afford to halt corporate sponsorship and support of academic endeavour.

THE CALL FOR DEEPER CONSULTATION WITH SMALLER STAKEHOLDERS

He made the point that stakeholders are not only limited to manufacturing and distribution companies but also include small and medium-sized enterprises that depend on Carreras’ products portfolio to conduct business, as well as communities that benefit from the company’s largesse. This Bill as it is presently framed, Glynn posits, may restrict bars and similar establishments from selling legal tobacco products.

He questioned who would offset this loss for the over 10,000 bar operators in Jamaica, urging that any legislation put forward must indeed have the intended outcome, rather than exacerbate adjacent issues or create entirely new ones.

“Consumers will certainly be lured by the convenience of lower-priced illicit merchandise as the cost gap widens,” Glynn said.

He noted that the Government should appreciate that as a highly productive Jamaican company that not only dedicates itself to the provision of jobs for hard-working Jamaicans and profits for its shareholders, Carreras takes ownership of the corporate social investment that has been made in the communities within which it operates and within which its products are sold and consumed.

Glynn pointed out that last year, while other companies were forced to cut staff and salaries in response to the pandemic, Carreras implemented onboarding and was able to maintain salaries for team members. In addition, some were provided with much-needed financial stability.

“With the tabling of this proposed legislation, we lament that the provisions of the new Bill will impair the income and revenue of not just our employees but of all the entrepreneurs operating within a sector, that like so many, has already been affected by the devastating fallouts of the coronavirus outbreak,” the Carreras managing director.