– Seven in 10 deaths in Guyana are from non-communicable diseases

Tobacco control legislation is critical to reduce diseases that are the leading causes of death in Guyana. This is according to the Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Carissa Ettienne.

Ettiene made these remarks during an official visit to the country, last month.

According to information posted on the PAHO website, Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) -including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes—account for 70 percent of deaths in Guyana and one-third of these deaths are premature (in people under 70).

Etienne said that tobacco, excessive alcohol use, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity are the main risk factors underlying this epidemic.

From Left to right: PAHO Director Carissa Ettienne, First Lady Sandra Granger and PAHO/WHO Representative in Guyana William Adu-Krow, during her visit to Guyana last month

She called for “working together with different sectors of society and among different government ministries to reduce the burden of these diseases and save lives.”

Etienne said tobacco control is a good place to start to step up action against NCDs, since it is overall the leading risk factor for these diseases. “We believe that tobacco taxes should be increased, tobacco packaging should feature strong warnings, and people should be protected from secondhand smoke,” she said. All these measures are recommended in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Guyana signed in 2005.

Etienne, who also serves as WHO Regional Director for the Americas, pointed out that tobacco not only has a negative impact on people’s health, but also on countries’ economies. She said supporters of tobacco control legislation must be on their guard against interference from the tobacco industry, which regularly tries to undermine regulatory efforts in developing countries.

PAHO has been supporting Guyana in recent years to develop a draft national tobacco control bill. Following a series of consultations on the law, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo recently announced his government’s intention to submit the proposed legislation to Parliament in the near term.

Also during her official visit to Guyana, Etienne signed a new PAHO–Guyana cooperation strategy with Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence.

One of the strategy’s main goals is to reduce the burden of NCDs. “PAHO’s technical cooperation will help us reduce illness and deaths” from these diseases to “ensure that all Guyanese enjoy a healthier life” by 2020, Lawrence said.

Several attempts were made, but the Tobacco Control legislation draft Bill has never been tabled in the National Assembly in the quest of making it into law. Earlier this year, former Health Minister, Dr. George Norton said that Bill has faced a lot of challenges, including the introduction mechanisms like the e-cigarette”

The use of E – cigarettes have been flooding the world market. In fact, it was revealed that there are more than 250 different e-cigarette brands that are currently available.

While e-cigarettes are often promoted as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes, which deliver nicotine by burning tobacco, little is actually known about the health risks of using these devices.

As such, Dr. Norton noted while the Ministry had not catered for e-cigarettes, “we had to make adjustments for that. This was even as we were about to take the Bill to Parliament”.

He recalled that the Public Health Ministry was forced to take e-cigarettes into consideration after it participated in international meetings in Panama and India with regards to the anti-tobacco movement.

Given the new and emerging development, and the fact that the Bill was delayed as a result, Minister Norton considered “it might have been in our best interest to wait to take it to Parliament.”

He noted too that because of additional information gained at the international forums “we are very much more informed and we are hoping that it would be one of the first issues on the agenda in the next sitting of the National Assembly”.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. Its impact translates to annual tobacco-related deaths of around six million people. Added to this, WHO has been able to deduce that more than five million of these deaths are the result of direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Further, WHO has affirmed that nearly 80 percent of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.

A Tobacco Control Bill was long in the making and was touted as a crucial need since in 2009, by then Minister of Health, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy. Dr. Ramsammy had not wavered in his call for this Bill to be fast-tracked, given the health implications of tobacco use.

His predecessor, Dr. Bheri Ramsaran, had continued the advocacy for the passage of the Bill.

But it was Minister Ramsammy who had made it clear that in order for such a legislation to be introduced, government needs the support of all stakeholders.

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