Promoting tobacco products to the detriment of our health outcomes

It was only two weeks ago when the Government announced plans to introduce legislation to make it legal for an 18-year-old to sell alcohol.

And just the other day we were alerted to another Government-sponsored legislation – which Parliament passed into law last month – that now gives a child 15-years or older the authority to sell cigarettes.

Samoa Observer ran a story on the amendments to the Tobacco Control Act in yesterday’s edition, detailing how the legislative changes now mean children aged 15 years or more have the blessings of the Government to sell tobacco products. 

Under Section 23A of the amended Tobacco Control Act 2019, the sale of tobacco products by persons under 15 prohibited: (1) A person below the age of 15 must not sell any tobacco product (2) A person who breaches subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to pay a fine not exceeding 1,000 penalty points. 

While the above provisions of the amended Tobacco Control Act 2019 do not explicitly state that children above 15-years of age can sell tobacco products, it does bluntly warn that children below the age of 15 who are caught selling tobacco products will be fined. That is to say, if the authorities come across youth aged 15 years or more selling cigarettes on the streets of Apia, they will be let go and not penalised – as the law says they are old enough to do that.

It is mind boggling why the Government-sponsored law is vague and not specific, especially in relation to children, after it inserted the clause that basically banned those below the age of 15 from selling cigarettes. So does that mean children over the age of 15 can sell cigarettes for retail outlets? And if they are to sell tobacco products, should they do it behind a counter in a store in a rural community or can they sell it in the streets of Apia? 

It is considered standard practice in parliamentary democracies for “explanatory notes” to accompany new legislation. The explanatory notes will enable Members of Parliament (other than those sponsoring the bill) and the general public to understand the rationale behind the proposed law.

Explanatory notes for the amended Tobacco Control Act 2019, would have explained the rationale behind the Government’s decision, to only focus on banning the sale of tobacco products by children below the age of 15 and whether those above 15 can now engage in the tobacco trade.

While we wait for the Government to give the public more information on what the amendments exactly entail, we cannot ignore the risk that are involved with having a law, that is vague and could give young Samoans the license to participate in the tobacco trade.

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Evidence from around the world suggests that the widespread availability of tobacco through retail outlets will have a detrimental effect on a country’s health outcomes. 

Imagine teenagers – age 15 and above – selling cigarettes on the streets and thereby increasing its availability and accessibility. Having a large number of cigarette sellers in a specific neighbourhood is likely to lead to increased smoking prevalence within that particular community, and ultimately high risks of lung cancer amongst the smoking population and non-smokers getting exposed to cancer through secondhand smoking. 

Early this month Samoa joined the global community to mark World Cancer Day, with Ministry of Health Chief Executive Officer Leausa Dr. Take Naseri and Associate Health Minister Tuitama Dr. Leao Talalelei Tuitama leading from the front, and joining close to 200 people to register for the World Cancer Day 2019 Fun Run. 

The Minister of Health Tuitama Dr. Leao Tuitama attended a church service – which was held at the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa at Vaiala – to mark the day.  

The Health Minister said the World Cancer Day was an opportune time for the various stakeholders to highlight the effects of cancer and to ensure work is done to tackle it in Samoa. 

“It is a day to highlight the effects of cancer and to ensure works that are done in curing those affected, and for everyone to come together in fighting against this universal epidemic which knows no boundaries.

“Cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide with Samoa being the second highest killer after the cardiovascular diseases. Mortality is high because of the limited primary health care and cancer treatments and the lack of effective screening programmes delay diagnosis at the stage where some cancers are easily treated,” he said. 

Tuitama said Samoa’s health expenditure on non-communicable diseases accounted for over 40 per cent of the total health expenditure, and this is mostly spent on clinical care. 

Lung cancer, like most common cancer, is a non-communicable disease. Surely, Tuitama would have had the foresight to see the long-term implications of the amended Tobacco Control Act 2019, and how it could potentially open the door to cigarette sellers aged 15 and above. 

Speaking at the recent World Cancer Day commemoration, the Health Minister said: “The main objectives of Cancer Day worldwide are to save as many as possible of preventable deaths each year, by raising awareness and education about cancer and pressing governments and individuals across the world to take positive action against the disease.”

Let us hope common sense prevails and the Government takes a second look at the new law and what it could mean for young Samoans. Now this is what we call “positive action”!

Have a wonderful Friday Samoa and God bless.

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