a civil society alliance for combatting chronic disease in the caribbean

Healthy Caribbean Coalition - Smoking ban in Jamaica will save lives

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First Published Jamaica Observer Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MORE Jamaicans die from heart disease than from any other cause and smoking is one of the leading risk factors for this disease. We at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica and the Caribbean Tobacco Control Project would like to applaud the Jamaica Observer for hosting a "Monday Exchange" highlighting the devastating impact of cardiovascular disease on our society and for identifying tobacco use as the killer that is contributing to the death of thousands of our countrymen every year.

Efforts continue to be made to sensitise the Jamaican people about the need to protect and safeguard the health of all citizens by instituting tobacco control legislation. In spite of this, some people remain uncertain about the positive impact that a smoking ban will have on the health of our country. Smoking bans in other countries have allowed people to enjoy their basic human right to clean air in public spaces, given them the freedom to frequent restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs without having their lungs polluted, and have freed children from the crippling health effects of second-hand smoke, yet it is still being suggested that a smoking ban is not effective.

Contrary to the suggestion in the September 1 Observer article, "How will Jamaicans react to public smoking ban?", that smoking bans are ineffective, several research studies show the effectiveness of smoking bans as a public health measure in many countries, some of which may be geographically and culturally far from us, but no less concerned about the health of their people, including Cuba, Finland, Singapore, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Estonia, New Zealand, Bhutan, India, Sweden, Tanzania, France, Germany, Kenya, Spain, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and parts of the United States of America.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology and The Cochrane Library (Issue 6) published the following general conclusion of world-renowned health researchers in 2009 reviews of over 50 studies: "There was consistent evidence of a reduction in hospital admissions for cardiac events as well as an improvement in some health indicators after the (smoking) ban." One of the most populous cities in the studies, New York, for example, reported an eight per cent decline in heart attacks one year after its smoking ban. In 2002-2004, smoking prevalence in New York decreased from 21.5 per cent to 18.5 per cent (JACC meta-study published in 2009 in Volume 54, pages 1249-1255). The study quoted in the Daily Observer article referred to a health survey in England conducted between January - December, 2007. The smoking ban in England did not take effect until July 1, 2007.

The fact is that smoking bans preserve the health of non-smokers and positively affect people who want to refrain from either continuing or starting to smoke. This is especially good news for our young people who get added encouragement from smoking bans to avoid a habit that destroys their health. Those who continue smoking because of their addiction to the drug nicotine, an ingredient in cigarettes, will continue to do so in their homes, to the possible detriment of the health of those who live with them. But for non-smokers who enjoy the freedom of clean air and the health benefits of unpolluted lungs, smoking bans reduce exposure to second-hand smoke.

To have future growth, the tobacco industry continues to spread misinformation about the negative health effects of cigarette smoking and targets the most vulnerable elements in developing societies, including Jamaica. Adolescents and women are targeted in this regard to ensure the continued financial growth of the tobacco industry's multi-million dollar marketing and advertising ploys, to the detriment of the health of those who become addicted.

What positive results can we look forward to in Jamaica where heart disease has a higher mortality rate than crime, road accidents and other illnesses?

The World Health Organisation recognises the tobacco industry's strategies and brings to the attention of our government and citizens every year through "World No Tobacco Day", the public health impact on populations like Jamaica's. Jamaica's signature on the WHO's global tobacco health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is an important achievement for public health.

We applaud Caricom governments and the Jamaican government, in particular, for taking the steps to protect the health of Jamaicans. Trinidad and Tobago has already implemented full legislation to safeguard its people, Barbados has just announced its own public smoking ban and we look forward to Jamaica's progressive adoption of its own measures to protect the health of the nation.

Deborah Chen is executive director of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica.



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