In the 1920’s, the British American Tobacco (BAT) Limited introduced Tobacco farming in Uganda. Eight years later, the British-American Tobacco Uganda (BATU) opened up the first tobacco processing factory in Jinja in 1928, a town which was founded in 1907 as a seat of the Busoga region by the British Provincial Government.
Swiftly, tobacco became a leading cash crop of Uganda and even after Uganda attained her independence, tobacco continued to be ranked number four on the list of Uganda’s major foreign exchange earners only after the likes of coffee, cotton and tea. Most of this time, tobacco was mainly grown in North Western Uganda but these plantations have since spread to some parts of South Western Uganda in the districts of Kanungu and areas of Kabale.
Tobacco growing in Uganda took a major hit in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to the political insecurity just like many other agricultural and economic activities. It took the direct intervention of British American Tobacco Limited to resurrect the industry. It was not long before the company was purchasing approximately 16 million kilos of tobacco annually from local Ugandan farmers to feed mostly tobacco factories in over 20 countries in Europe, Asia and America at a devastating cost to Uganda’s environmental state.
As the industry grew, new players followed suit such as the Leaf Tobacco & Commodities (U) Ltd and the Continental Tobacco Uganda (CTU) Ltd which is a subsidiary of Mastermind Tobacco Kenya (MTK) Ltd.
Fast forward, due to high taxes and other factors, the British American Tobacco Uganda limited was forced to close down it’s Jinja based tobacco-processing factory which was set up in 1928 in 2005.
It is believed that tobacco was first discovered by the Native Americans who started using it for medicinal and cultural purposes. During their explorations, European explorers soon landed on tobacco and that is how it found it’s way to Europe, Middle East and thereafter the rest of the world. Today, tobacco is widely used around the world not for medicinal purposes but for recreation at a devastating cost on innocent lives.
Researchers first established the first negative effects of using tobacco in the 1930s. By the 1950s, the link between tobacco and lung cancer was confirmed. In light of this discovery, medical evidence continues to prove that tobacco use possess serious risk for potential fatal heart and lung diseases, stroke, impotence to mention but a few.
Today, tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world. It kills more people annually than AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis combined.
This high death rate mostly amongst the working-age adults has devastating socio-economic ramifications on our communities. It has increased the number of orphans and vulnerable children, early death, loss of productivity etc which have directly contributed to strengthening of the circle of poverty, unnecessarily ballooned our health budget which remains largely generally overstretched and negatively impacting on key national development priorities.
On realizing this, in 1988, the 31st of May was marked as the World No Tobacco Day in efforts to encourage a tobacco-free world. It is now an annual event.
This was followed up by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which was established in 2003 with a specific purpose of ensuring that member countries (signatories) move to put in place and enforce tobacco control measures through stemming tobacco consumption, regulating tobacco marketing, labelling, sponsorships etc.
Uganda consented to the FCTC on March 5, 2004 but by February 2006, the country was yet to ratify the FCTC which raised questions about the government’s commitment on taking measures to operationalise tobacco control measures. Consequentially, Uganda was barred from participating in the International Tobacco Control Conference in 2006.
On June 24, 2007, Uganda finally became signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which obliges it to have a comprehensive Tobacco Control Act to among others regulate tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship under Article 13.
Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, MP of Kinkiizi East has since tabled the Tobacco Control Bill 2012 which has drawn support from the First Lady Mrs. Janet Museveni who is also an MP. President Museveni has himself also offered support to the Bill. While officiating at the launch of the Celebrations to mark 50 years of Makerere in 2012, he pledged to sign the Tobacco Control Bill into law the moment it gets to his office.
In the meantime, as the bill gathers dust in parliament, figures from the Center for Tobacco Control in Africa reveal that approximately 13,500 people have died from diseases associated with tobacco use from the time the bill was first tabled in parliament.
The industry continues to engage in insidious advertising campaigns through indirect advertising such as product launches, corporate social responsibility initiatives, branding, cigarette price increase adverts in local media, cigarette branded vehicles etc to recruit new and young customers; children as young as six continue to have unfettered access to purchasing a stick of cigarettes at the nearest kiosk.
All this is reflected from the consistent rise in cigarette sales in the country as industry players continue to have a field day in what the Tobacco Atlas (2012) regards as a country with a “complete absence of the ban on tobacco advertising”.
Several countries in Africa and within the region have put in place comprehensive tobacco control legislation. South Africa passed the law in 1999 and Kenya did the same in 2007. We should have done the same like yesterday. Let us all support the petition put in place by Tobacco Control Uganda by visiting the page and signing the same to remind our Members of Parliament and the government of our right to health and a clean environment.
People will always smoke but we need to move towards protecting the younger generation to work towards a tobacco free generation. It is our duty. It’s time to act.