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Tobacco-growing Cuba marks World No Tobacco Day

Despite its world-famous tobacco crop, Cuba on Wednesday celebrated World No Tobacco Day with zeal, launching anti-smoking campaigns in the media, at schools and in healthcare centers.

“Statistics show that 54 percent of Cuban families, 55 percent of children, 51 percent of pregnant women and 60 percent of adolescents are exposed to this polluting agent.

These figures rank us as the Latin American country with the highest exposure to tobacco smoke in the home,” the daily Granma cited Elba Lorenzo Vazquez, national coordinator of the state anti-smoking program, as saying at a press conference.

Cuba has Latin America’s third highest rate of smokers, with some 24 percent of the population smoking.

The anti-smoking campaign is directed mainly at young Cubans, hoping to prevent them from picking up the habit in the first place, though the government is also promoting programs to help those addicted to tobacco quit smoking.

Laws that restrict smoking have been around in Cuba since the early 1970s. In 1974, the government banned smoking in government offices and institutions, and in 1986, the ban was expanded to other areas.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared May 31st World No Tobacco Day to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking, which can lead to lung cancer, respiratory diseases and other ailments.

Half of all smokers die prematurely, according to the WHO.

Under the banner “Tobacco — a threat to development,” the WHO released a video that warns “tobacco endangers our health, economies and environment and undermines our effort to build … a more prosperous world for all.”

Cuba Updates its Regulations Related to Tobacco Consumption

Updating the existing regulations to control smoking in public places is part of Cuba”s campaign to celebrate World No Tobacco Day, to be held on May 31.

The head of the Department of School Health at the Ministry of Education (Mined), Yanira Gomez, reminded at a press conference held in this capital that since 1974 there is a regulation that prohibits smoking in institutions and state entities, including schools.

The regulations are designed to be effective, taking into account the particularities of each educational system; and despite the existing literature, it is also necessary to promote initiatives that contribute, from the methodology to the stipulated in the legal framework already established, said Gómez.

World No Tobacco Day was established by the World Health Organization and its partners in order to highlight the health risks associated with smoking and to advocate for effective policies to reduce its consumption.

This year’s campaign aims to mobilize the main social actors, as well as adolescent and young children, in the fight against exposure to tobacco smoke and in terms of sustainable development.

New warnings on cigarettes

Government has taken further steps to protect the public from the harmful effects of tobacco.

According to Minister of Health, John Boyce, producers, manufacturers and distributors of cigarettes will now have to ensure that included in the packaging and labels of cigarettes are graphic illustrations and strong wording to inform persons of the dangers of tobacco, and to discourage its use. Piloting the Health Services (Amendment) Bill in the Lower House yesterday morning, he said they will be given a reasonable timeframe to become compliant.

“Up until now cigarette packages in Barbados have been very liberal in terms of their designs and the packaging… I think there is a mention that the Minister of Health indicates that cigarette smoke is dangerous for your life. However, we’ve always felt we had to move beyond that and the internationally accepted battle is to move to a regime where the packaging is even more stark; and along with the messaging from the Minister of Health or the Chief Medical Officer in the country, we want to add to it some graphic illustration of the conditions which we could find ourselves having to deal with, if we continue to abuse or use cigarettes at all,” he told fellow Members of Parliament.

Those steps, he said are consistent with the guidelines set out in Article 11 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. With that in mind, he explained that the package and label of any tobacco product should not contain any information that is false, misleading, defective or likely to give erroneous information about the characteristics, health effects or hazards of the tobacco product. He speaking particularly in relation to terms used on cigarettes packages such as “low tar”, “light” “mild” and “slim”.

“We do not recognise these are terms that change the form of the cigarette from dangerous to not dangerous. The Ministry of Health does not subscribe and indeed the Framework does not subscribe to that distinction… We’ve decided as a country, we have decided as a region, and indeed we’ve decided internationally that we have to fight back against these marketing forces,” he said.

Minister Boyce went on to say that the package and label will give full disclosure about the harmful and hazardous health effects through graphic pictorial warnings. These warnings, he said, will cover the front and back area of the product to a minimum of 60 per cent. In addition, Boyce said, there will be written warning attributable to the Minister of Health and or the Chief Medical Officer. The warnings, he explained, will speak to such health issues as blindness, impotency, and stillbirth, dangers of second hand smoke and mouth diseases.

He added that the standard for packaging and labelling was adopted out of a CARICOM standard approved by the Council of Health Ministers of the region, and facilitated by the CARICOM Regional Organisation for Standards and Quality and the Barbados National Standards Institution. That work, he stated, started as far back as 2013. (JRT)