In the 29 November 2020 episode of his Sunday evening talk show, Anou Palay, Prime Minister Skerrit confidently stated with his customary simperingLeviathan smirk,
“I recall making a case in the public service and in the country about banning smoking in public places and I did not get the support for it and then lo and behold two years later, the WHO and PAHO mandated countries to address smoking in public places and we never perused it”
Besides the obvious self-aggrandizement and falsehood of the above statement, it reflects a lack of integrity and willingness to implement genuine good public policies. First of all, the WHO did not take action after Skerrit’s statements. That is a delusional statement beyond being a blatant lie.
Secondly, there was and is no such “mandate.’ There is an international convention on the subject to which countries sign-on to, ratify, or accept. Where there are a genuine intent and political will to take concrete action, some countries have taken the matter further and incorporated the provisions of the international conventions into local legislation, which as PM Skerrit’s admits, “we have not pursued.” In the last 14 years since Dominica ratified the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2006, Dominica has not done much to implement its provisions.
Let us dismiss this false notion upfront. PM Skerrit was NOT the first to raise the idea, suggest or speak of a public ban on smoking in locally, regionally, and definitely not in the international community to influence the WHO and PAHO. Far from it!
Dominica was not the first country in the Caribbean neither to sign on to nor to ratify the FCTC. These frequent lapses of self-glorification and self-aggrandizement of PM Skerrit exemplifies his insatiable desire for attention. He often claims that he introduced the concept of a “resilient nation to the UN” following Hurricane Maria. He claims to have introduced the goal of eradicating pit latrine to the international community and yet again he is falsely claiming that he was the one who started talking about banning smoking in public spaces before the WHO and PAHO starting taking action on the matter.
In 1996, the Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the World Health Assembly resolution –WHA49.17, in which they decided to initiate the development of a binding international instrument on tobacco control known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
In 1998, recognizing the enormous premature mortality caused by tobacco, the WHO reinvigorated the international work on tobacco control by creating a cabinet-level project entitled the Tobacco Free Initiative. The FCTC was the cornerstone of this project.
Table-I below shows a selective list of signatories and Ratifications of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the Americas as reported by the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)
The WHO FCTC was opened for signature from 16 June to 22 June 2003 in Geneva, and thereafter at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, from 30 June 2003 to 29 June 2004. The Convention was open to signature by all Members of the World Health Organization (WHO), all States that are not Members of WHO including the Member States of PAHO. It was also opened to countries that are not members of the United Nations and any regional economic integration organization. Countries wishing to become a Party, but that did not sign the Convention by 29 June 2004, could still do so by means of accession, which is a one-step process equivalent to ratification. The Convention entered into force on 27 February 2005, 90 days after it had been acceded to, ratified, accepted, or approved by 40 States. Currently, there are 182 Parties covering more than 90% of the world population.
Countries that are signatories to the FCTC are required to impose a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship within five years of signing. The treaty requires parties to adopt and implement effective legislative and other measures providing for protection from exposure to tobacco smoke in public places. Failure to comply with the Convention’s terms can expose countries and individuals in those countries to potentially costly criminal or civil legal action. The question to PM Skerrit is what action has his administration actually taken in legislating measures to achieve the above, other than revue raising measures of increasing taxes on tobacco products?
Below is a brief history of consideration of the subject in the international community. More comprehensive reviews of the history of smoking bans and the scientific evidence and societal forces for and against are found in “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General (HHS, 2006)” and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation (IOM, 2007).”
As far back in 1575, a Mexican ecclesiastical council constructed a ban that forbade the use of tobacco in any church in Mexico and the Spanish colonies in the Caribbean;
In 1624, Pope Urban VII threatened to excommunicate anyone who “took tobacco” in the porchway or inside a church; whether it was chewed, smoked with a pipe, or sniffed in powdered form through the nose;
In 1633, the Ottoman sultan Murad IV prohibited smoking in his empire- long before emperor Skerrit was conceived.
In 1876, the first building in the world to have a smoke-free policy was the Old Government Building in Wellington, New Zealand. This was more due to concerns over fire safety since it was the second-largest wooden building in the world;
In 1941, under orders of Adolf Hitler the first modern, nationwide tobacco ban was imposed by the Nazi Party in every German university, post office, military hospital, and Nazi Party office, under the auspices of Karl Astel’s Institute for Tobacco Hazards Research;
In the 1970s- Singapore introduced laws restricting smoking in public places and prohibiting tobacco advertisements;
In 1975, Minnesota/USA enacted the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, making it the first state in the US to ban smoking in most public spaces. Restaurants were required to have No Smoking sections. (Skerrit may wish to take note of what a government with genuine intent does);
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, some US states implemented comprehensive smoking bans that prohibited smoking in most workplaces and all public places, including previously exempted bars and restaurants;
In 1990, San Luis Obispo, California, became the first city in the world to ban indoor smoking at all public places, including bars and restaurants. In 1998, it became illegal to smoke in bars, restaurants, and public places in California, although the US had not yet signed and ratified the International treaty then.
In 2000, New South Wales in Australia banned smoking in public places;
In 2001, Israel imposed a ban on smoking in public places, although enforcement has been weak as the country tries to implement the WHO Framework Convention. Nevertheless, this was the first attempt to implement successful legal action based on the treaty, when a pregnant woman sued a restaurant owner for allowing smoking.
In 2003, bans were put in place in New York City, USA
In 2003, Ireland signed up to the WHO’s FCTC,
In 2004, Ireland’s ban on smoking in public spaces came into effect. Smokeless pubs soon became business as usual. The ban was embraced, albeit reluctantly, by Ireland’s hospitality industry though wholeheartedly by staff working in the sector. Nearly two years after Ireland became one of the first countries to strictly enforce a comprehensive ban on smoking in indoor public places, including bars, cafes, and restaurants, more countries are taking tough and not-so-tough action against passive smoking.
In 2004, the United States signed on to the FCTC and enacted provisions in the Public Health Act, Act 851 (2012)- see Section 58, which stipulates “a person shall not smoke tobacco or a tobacco product or hold a lighted tobacco product in an enclosed or indoor area of a workplace, or in any other public place except in a designated area”. The act considers tobacco smoking and tobacco products as not only harmful to the smoker alone, but also to the people around who inhale public places to place an inscription indicating the public risk.
In 2007, a comprehensive ban was agreed upon in the UK after a lengthy debate over whether smoking should be allowed in private members clubs and in pubs that don’t serve food. A national ban came into effect in across the country in the summer of that year.
In June 2014, Beijing/China became one of the most significant Chinese municipalities to ban smoking in public places. The Legislative Affairs Office of China’s State Council published a draft national tobacco control law in the same month which, if adopted, will make all indoor and some outdoor public places in China smoke-free as well as ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and require graphic health warnings to cover half of all tobacco packets sold in China. The move was seen as China’s unprecedented efforts towards in meeting its obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and most importantly- dramatic progress towards reducing the epidemic of tobacco-related illness and preventable death in China.
There have also been problems with the implementation of the FCTC inspired ban on smoking in restaurants, cafes, and bars globally stemming from uneven enforcement. Thailand has some of Asia’s strictest anti-smoking laws. Legislation banning smoking in public places has been passed in countries like Uruguay, Uganda, and Rwanda. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is the only country in the world to date that has banned the sale of tobacco products altogether.
Perhaps someone could share this with PM Skerrit and beg him to desist from making such false, self-aggrandizing statement with respect to his pitch for climate change, resilience, sustainable development goals/targets such as eradication of pit latrine and a ban on smoking in public places, while his government actually takes little action to actually realize the benefits of the international initiatives.