Why Tobacco?

The ‘Tobacco Kills: Say No & Save Lives Campaign’ aims to pass comprehensive Tobacco Control legislation in Uganda in the coming months.

The launch of the campaign was marked by a multitude of representation from different parts of the society; from legislators, civil society to young people using different forms of creative expression; poetry, art, music, drama to draw attention to dangers of tobacco.

A lot of the debate around tobacco control has been centred around the topic itself; WHY TOBACCO? We present to you the top 5 myths so far to help the general public formulate their stand on this particular issue.

Myth 1: No to Tobacco Control Bill because people will resort to illicit trade and/or homegrown unprocessed tobacco anyway.

People resort to homegrown or smuggled tobacco because they are addicted, nicotine is addictive. That is why it’s important to create an environment conducive for the regulation of tobacco (from how much tobacco are sold for to where it is accessible to where smokers can smoke, etc) and not allow it to be rampantly available at the cheapest possible price that anyone can access it and become addicted to it.
Research has shown that tobacco taxes are not the primary reason for cigarette smuggling but issues such as weak border control and corruption. Part of the provision of the bill includes prevention and control of illicit trade.

Myth 2: No to Tobacco Control Bill because it’s not a big issue in Uganda.

Tobacco DOES kill; there’s no doubt about it. Worldwide:
• Tobacco is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today, killing up to half of the people who use it.
• More than 1 billion people worldwide currently smoke tobacco; about ¼ of adults and tobacco use currently causes 6 million deaths each year and is expected to cause approximately 10 million deaths per year by 2030, 70% of these in developing countries. By the end of this century, tobacco may kill a billion people.

In Uganda, a study carried out at Mulago Hospital found that 75% of the patients of oral cancer had a history of smoking with the number of years of cigarette smoking ranging from 2-38 years. Data also indicated that smokers in Uganda might be starting at an early age and that under-age smoking is a problem. Lukwiya for instance reported that the mean initiation age of smoking was 13.5 years in Jinja district and as low as 9 years in Arua, Kampala, Lira, Mbale, Mbarara and Masaka districts.

As Tobacco Control legislations are becoming increasing stronger in the western countries, tobacco companies are looking to Africa as the next big market. According to the South Africa National Council against Smoking, “The African population is very young and for various reasons, governance If they can hook customers now, they’ve got customers for the next 40 or 50 years.”

Myth 3: No to Tobacco Control Bill since the government is issuing licenses to tobacco companies to operate.

This issue involves multi-sectoral stakeholders. That is why the Parliamentary Forum on Non-Communicable Diseases is currently engaging in dialogues with various government departments; from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Trade. The Ministry of Trade for example will not stop issuing licenses to tobacco companies unless there is a law in place. But having said that the Tobacco Control Bill does not sought to outright ban tobacco as it is not realistic. What it sought to do instead is to regulate the pricing for example. Increasing taxation on tobacco still guarantees revenue for the government which in turn some of which can be used for tobacco control. And research shows that increasing pricing will reduce the likelihood of the poor and young to smoke.

Myth 4: No to Tobacco Control Bill because of poor enforcement.

There is the existing National Environment Regulations – Control of Smoking in Public Places Regulations 2004 in Uganda of course but it is not compliant with the FCTC guidelines and is generally poorly enforced. Therefore, it is almost non-existent in the hospitality sector.

And on the issue of implementation, let us learn from our neighbours. Take Kenya as an example. Kenya ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004 and by 2007, they’ve enacted comprehensive tobacco control legislation. In 2009, the training of enforcement officers enabled the smoke free law to be largely enforced by 2010. The smoking prevalence in Nairobi used to be much higher before the law but now it has become so increasingly hard for smokers to smoke that when they come to Kampala, it’s almost like haven for smokers because we are still allowed to smoke pretty much anywhere that we want.

Rather than put the blame on our legislators for not doing enough, why not take up the issue of Tobacco Control as an example where we can really rally efforts not just from our legislators but also the people behind it?
What we need to do is engage the KCCA for example. We need to engage people for example; you, me and everybody. If you see a smoker next to you, you know you have a right to ask him/her to stop smoking.

Myth 5: No to Tobacco Control Bill because the livelihood of tobacco farmers depend on it.

A recent visit to the West Nile area sees our MPs speaking directly to district leaders and farmers and there was overwhelming response and testimonials that tobacco is not wanted. Rather than regulating tobacco, some farmers have called for the outright banning of tobacco as this crop has brought them nothing but misery. A great example of switching to alternative crops is showcased by the district of Kibale where they’ve set up a District Tobacco Workforce which includes Marketing, Production, Agriculture and Information Officers to help farmers switch to alternative crop.