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Health ministry seeks reversal of tobacco price cut

By Khetam Malkawi - Jan 08,2013 - Last updated at Jan 08,2013

AMMAN — The Ministry of Health has called on the government to reconsider its approval of a reduction in prices of Jordanian-manufactured tobacco products.

Health Minister Abdul Latif Wreikat on Monday sent a letter to Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour urging him to review the decision, according to source at the ministry.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the decision taken last month, which allowed local manufacturers to reduce cigarette prices in order to compete with cheaper smuggled products, should be reconsidered before “the situation becomes uncontrollable”.

He added that in his letter, Wreikat explained to the premier that this decision went against the country’s obligations under the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which Jordan adopted in 2006.

Article 6 of the convention, which concerns the impact of tobacco prices on smoking prevalence, reads: “The Parties recognise that price and tax measures are an effective and important means of reducing tobacco consumption by various segments of the population, in particular young persons.”

Meanwhile, Malek Habashneh, director of the health ministry’s awareness department, said local tobacco manufacturing firms were now required to place four new, hard-hitting anti-tobacco pictorials on cigarette packs.

The companies were asked to place these photos starting January 1, he said, and any company that does not comply before the end of March will be issued a warning.

Following its adoption of the FCTC, Jordan required local tobacco companies to include an image of diseased lungs on cigarette packs as an additional warning against the dangers of smoking.

The old image occupied one-third of the back of the packet, while a written warning against smoking covered one-third of the front.

The new images will cover 50 per cent of the pack.

Habashneh noted that smoking cost the country JD1 billion last year, including money spent on tobacco and smoking-related diseases.

According to the ministry’s latest figures, 59 violators of the Public Health Law, which prohibits smoking in public places, were referred to court in 2012, while 414 warnings were issued.

The Public Health Law began a gradual process of implementation in early 2009. The law was enforced in shopping malls and Queen Alia International Airport in March 2009 and in fast-food restaurants that June.

According to the law, smoking is prohibited in hospitals, healthcare centres, schools, cinemas, theatres, libraries, museums, public and non-governmental buildings, public transport vehicles, airports, closed playgrounds, lecture halls and any other location to be determined by the health minister.

The law also stipulates that any person caught smoking in a public place is subject to between one week and one month imprisonment or a JD15-JD25 fine. The same penalties apply to those who sell cigarettes to minors.

Last year, the Department of Statistics issued a report on the status of smoking in Jordan, which showed that spending on cigarettes was on the rise.

Total household spending on tobacco and cigarettes in Jordan reached JD480.7 million in 2010, compared to JD352.3 million in 2008, according to the report.

The latest study on the prevalence of smoking in Jordan, conducted in 2007, showed that approximately 29 per cent of Jordanians above the age of 18 are smokers, in addition to 14 per cent of children in the 13-15 age bracket, 23 per cent of whom smoke argileh.

According to the WHO, tobacco is responsible for killing about six million people each year. It contains over 4,000 chemicals of which 60 are carcinogenic, in addition to nicotine, which is the addictive substance in tobacco.

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