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Government’s Choice between Public Health and Tobacco Business

26.04.2017

 
Natia Gogolashvili

On April 18, the Parliamentary Committee of Healthcare and Social Issues held working meeting instead the second hearing of the draft law on Tobacco Control. The government requested to postpone the second hearing and the Committee conducted the discussion in informal format. Although the second hearing was postponed based on the initiative of the government and the main part of the meeting was dedicated to the discussion of the government’s remarks about the draft-law, the government’s representatives did not participate in the meeting.

On April, a plenary session was held in the parliament, where the law-makers (85 supporter vs 0 opponent) passed the bill at the first hearing. It is noteworthy that previous convocation parliament also discussed the bill on tobacco control but could not pass it. The law makers now seem more willing to adopt the law on Tobacco Control. 

On April 18, only 17-page notes and comments of the Government were discussed in the parliamentary committee. 
The draft-law was initiated by MP Guguli Magradze. “This legislative initiative is very important and we, the state, which ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of Tobacco, are obliged to introduce the listed amendments to the law. We should take steps to protect our secondhand smokers and young generation from tobacco-addiction. The bill is not against smokers, it aims to create healthy environment. The smokers will be able to buy and smoke cigarettes only in the space, where they will not create threats to the health of non-smokers,” MP Guguli Magradze said. 

The main remarks of the government referred to the enforcement mechanisms and terms of the law. Also, according to their remarks, similar restriction of tobacco-use will first of all harm the people employed in the tobacco business and advertising business.

Guguli Magradze said the main challenge is the enforcement of the law. She said the functions and duties of the law enforcement structures shall be clearly determined so that the law worked effectively.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of Healthcare and Social Issues Akaki Zoidze said they took best practices and recommendations of the World Healthcare Organization into account when elaborating the law.
“The remarks are very important. Of course, we will continue discussions with the government. The finally agreed version of the bill will be put on motion during the second hearing. I believe we will pass the law, which will be easily enforceable and will serve the future generations. The control of the implementation of the law is very important issue. The government will be responsible for its implementation and consequently we will take their remarks into account with regard to the law enforcement. Besides that, we are thinking what the role the Revenue Service and the Environmental Inspection will have. We continue consultations about these issues,” Akaki Zoidze said.

Interim business ombudsman of Georgia Zurab Dznelashvili thinks the prohibition procedures for the businesses shall be time-allotted so that the companies could adapt with new regulations. 
“Nobody is against the new measures taken by the state to reduce tobacco-addiction in the country but the current formulation of the bill is inadmissible. First of all, the terms shall be revised – at least one year time shall be given to the companies. As you know business companies operate based on one-year contracts with marketing and advertising services. If the restrictions go in force earlier than one year, the business will face serious problems,” Zurab Dznelashvili said.
It is noteworthy that the authors of the bill also agree with the remarks about timeframe. “The government suggests not to enforce all regulations suddenly and we agree with that. We also had similar position. Thus, neither tobacco industry, nor advertising or other companies will have any problems. In addition to that, the restaurants, bars, cafes will have one year to arrange their infrastructure in accordance to new regulations,” Guguli Magradze said.

Zurab Dznelashvili thinks it is inadmissible that representatives of the tobacco industry are not involved in the discussion process. “How can [the authority] determine regulations for the third party without their participation in the process? Without hearing their position. It is another issue whether their position will be accepted or not. You may listen to them but ignore their suggestions. But closing door for them and work behind the closed door and publish new regulations afterwards, is not correct.”

However, the authors of the bill are not going to change their position in relation with the involvement of the tobacco industry in the discussion process and believe the issues which are related with the healthcare problems are more important than the interests of concrete business companies. “Our final principle will not be changed. Representatives of the tobacco industry do not participate because the issues discussed during the meetings are related with the healthcare problems,” MP Guguli Magradze said, and representatives of the Tobacco Control Alliance also share her position. 

Representatives of the Tobacco Control Alliance state the conclusion of the government aims to damage the entire content of the bill and serve the interests of the tobacco industry. 
“We get suspicious by the fact that the tobacco industry and the government have equal interests. If we consider their requirements, the bill will completely lose its purpose and aim. Tobacco industry has consolidated and mobilized its powers and the process will not be easy. But we have very clear question: on the one hand, we have the interests of the healthcare of our country and economics and on the other hand – interests of concrete business companies. The government shall make a choice. The Georgian population has been waiting for their decision for 14 years already – choice between the people and concrete businessmen. I hope the government will not make mistakes like they did in 2003, and in 2008, when we adopted the law on paper but it could not reduce the tobacco addiction and could not defend the rights of the secondhand smokers. With these laws we received as many smoker-children as smoker adults that is absolute catastrophe for our country. They try to leave some holes in the full prohibition of the advertising and request to leave ads in shops. It is long-term strategy of the tobacco industry and for some reason we saw the same text in the government’s conclusion. In fact it is advertisement for children and it is catastrophe to leave it as it is. It means, the entire resources, which is spent by the tobacco industry on the advertisements in the streets, internet, etc will be accumulated in the shops and our children, more young people will get addicted to the tobacco,” head of the Tobacco Control Alliance Kakha Gvinianidze.

Executive director of Human Rights Center Aleko Tskitishvili also underlined similarities between the government’s remarks and the interests of the tobacco industry.
“Apparently, the tobacco industry made huge influence on the government’s remarks. I had a feeling that many of their remarks were written by the representatives of the tobacco industry and the parliamentary secretary of the government had just signed it. Maybe I am exaggerating the situation but many views of the government directly demonstrate the interests of the tobacco industry. For example, prohibition of the tobacco advertising is very important for us. Advertisements of the tobacco are all over the city and it primarily encourage wide spread of the lethal product. The argument of the government relies on the social interests of the people, who are employed in the tobacco booths and sell cigarettes. But why does not the state think about the financial resources the state budget spends on the healthcare of the people, who get sick because of smoking. I hope present parliament will stay on its position and will adopt the law. Unfortunately, previous parliament did not have kind will to do it. We remember, when the issue of the tobacco control was discussed, a chairperson of one of the committees was publicly smoking an electronic cigarette during the plenary session. I think it was disrespect to the initiated amendments,” Aleko Tskitishvili said.

“The Parliament is authorized to determined internal and foreign policy of the country; the government is authorized to implement those policies. Thus, I would like to call on you to be brave enough because you are on the right side. It should encourage you to lead this process to the end. There is nothing in the bill which cannot be implemented or is not implemented in other countries,” Eka Popkhadze, the parliamentary secretary of the Public Defender, said.

“For years, the initial version of the legislation was weakened but nowadays the legislative team assumed political leadership of this initiative and I think it will be very difficult to introduce any changes in the bill. Some provisions may become more realistic in terms of implementation but civilized world has won its struggle against the tobacco industry and if we have declared a will to be part of the developed world and western values, we have unique chance to introduce substantial amendments in the tobacco control regulations,” chairwoman of the Parliamentary Committee of the Education, Science and Culture Mariam Jashi said.

Part of the parliamentary minority also supports the bill on the tobacco control however they speak about effective implementation of the law.
“Naturally, it is correct to carry out anti-tobacco addiction policy in the country but the sanctions shall be easily administrable and implementable. Any sanction, which will not be realized and administered, will remain on the paper and may create a threat of corruption. In the past we had strict sanctions but unfortunately they were not effectively used,” Gigi Tsereteli, member of the United National Movement, said.

The Disease Control Center is co-author of the bill; the director of the Center Amiran Gamkrelidze hopes, Georgia will meet the May 31 - World Day without Tobacco with the new legislation. The next hearing of the bill in the parliamentary committee of healthcare and social issues will be held on May 2.  

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