Youth access to tobacco a growing concern – Jamaican Health Minister

31 May 2022
attendees at WNTD 2022

Kingston, Tuesday, May 31, 2022 (PAHO) - A recent rapid assessment conducted by Jamaica's National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) reveals widespread use and access to tobacco vaping devices among youth in Jamaica. Health Minister, Dr. Christopher Tufton pointed to worrying trends during the national World No Tobacco Day Youth Forum, held today at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

“Only this month, we received further insight into e-cigarette use among young people, courtesy of a Rapid Situational Assessment, conducted by the NCDA,” noted Dr. Tufton.

“The findings reveal troubling ease of access to e-cigarettes for youngsters – with adults as their enablers. It also hints at the dangers of the so-called ‘fun’ flavours of e-cigarettes, which are often marketed as safe alternatives to smoking. But this is not true; e-cigarettes are not safe,” the Minister added.

At the same time, Executive Director of the NCDA, Mr. Michael Tucker noted that the increasing popularity of vaping devices among students, coupled with the low-risk perception of youth calls for intensified actions to tackle the tobacco industry.

“Our youth are particularly vulnerable to the effects of nicotine contained in tobacco, given its highly addictive nature and the fact that it can disrupt their brain development,” Mr. Tucker highlighted.

“More concerning is the fact that 15% of our adolescents between ages 13-15 have reported use of e-cigarettes, and of those who have used tobacco, 80% have used it before the age of 14 years. And we want you to note that this is not confined to a particular parish or socio-economic group – it is occurring across the length and breadth of Jamaica,” Mr. Tucker underscored.

At present, a Joint Select Committee, chaired by the Minister of Health and Wellness, is reviewing the provisions of the Tobacco Control Act, 2020 which aims to safeguard Jamaicans, including youth and children, from the harmful effects of tobacco use. For her part, Dr. Michelle Harris, Advisor on Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health at the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO), who also delivered remarks at the forum emphasized that Jamaica is moving in the right direction to protect citizens from the ill effects of tobacco.

“We at the PAHO/WHO Country Office in Jamaica commend the Government of Jamaica for the work underway for the passage of the proposed Tobacco Control legislation. The legislation presents our best opportunity to reduce the harmful impact of tobacco and tobacco-related products on our children, young people, the society and the environment," she noted

A global observance, World No Tobacco Day is recognized annually on May 31 to increase awareness and action towards the elimination of tobacco use, given its harmful effects on human health and development. Jamaica’s local focus, under the theme, “Tobacco: Threat to the Environment – No Butts About It” focuses on tobacco and the physical environment; tobacco and human health; and tobacco’s impact on psychosocial health. The Youth Forum, dubbed, “Tobacco Exposed: No Butts About It” formed part of activities being undertaken for the 2022 focus. Led by the NCDA, an agency of the Ministry of Health and Wellness; PAHO; the Jamaica Cancer Society; and the Heart Foundation of Jamaica, World No Tobacco Day in Jamaica calls for people to quit all forms of tobacco use, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.