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May 31, 2007

Health officials turn up heat on smokers

Story PictureFor years there has been irrefutable proof that smoking, aside from being a bad habit, is also a certain path to premature death and disability. Yet, every year billions of dollars are spent on cigarettes and other tobacco products. Today, Belizean health officials announced plans to turn up the heat on smoking.

Kendra Griffith, Reporting
According to World Health Organization statistics, approximately one point three billion people around the world light up each day … and during that same twenty-four hour period, some eleven thousand people die from a tobacco related illness.

Lorraine Thompson, Technical Advisor, PAHO/WHO
“Tobacco use and cigarette smoking causes lung and throat cancer, emphysema, which is a condition of the lungs, heart disease, respiratory illnesses, stroke.”

Dr. Beverly Barnett, PAHO/WHO, Country Rep
“Second hand smoke contains the very same harmful substances as first hand smoke, if I can coin that term. Thus inhaling second hand smoke is as deadly as actual smoking.”

Lorraine Thompson
“Second hand smoke on the other hand also contributes to lung cancer, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, ear infections, and low birth weight.”

In 2003, the World Health Assembly adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Belize is one of a hundred and forty-seven countries that have ratified the document … And today, on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, the Ministry of Health launched its National Tobacco Control Plan.

Dr. Jorge Polanco, Ag. Director of Health Services
“The goal is primarily to reduce the prevalence of tobacco consumption in all its forms: cigars, chewing, inhaling, smoking, and of course as important as the smoking is the exposure to the tobacco smoke in Belize.”

And how will the M.O.H. go about kicking the habit? According to Acting Director of Health Services, Dr. Jorge Polanco, their committee will spearhead public awareness campaigns and legislation will be enacted to prohibit smoking in public and workplaces.

Dr. Jorge Polanco
“We will start with public places, all the health facilities of the ministry, all public places such as bus terminals, public transport such as buses and taxi, lobbies, those will be the first areas to address that should be smoke-free.”

There will also be a ban on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, stoppage of retail and half pack sales, fines for business that sell cigarettes to minors, and a revision of the health warning and content labelling on cartons.

Lorraine Thompson
“At least one third of tobacco package should include a warning. Currently, the tobacco packages in Belize state that tobacco smoking is dangerous to health as stipulated by the director of health services, but it is a very small part of the package. In the next three years, in keeping with the convention, our labelling should look something more like that.”

Dr. Polanco says they have informed Belize’s only cigarette manufacturer, Caribbean Tobacco Company, of the eventual changes.

Dr. Jorge Polanco
“I am of the opinion that they will go with us. I have had preliminary conversations with officials of the company and they go with the idea that indeed it’s a public health threat, indeed there is a need for smoke-free environments, so I am of the opinion that that they would find alternatives.”

In keeping with this year’s theme of “Smoke-Free Environments”, this morning several businesses who have adopted that policy were recognised.

Jose Coye, Minister of Health
“The dream of a smoke free society, it is not impossible. And I want to urge all those listening to me today to remember, if you don’t smoke, don’t start … and if you do, quit.”

Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

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