It is interesting how we are lethargic to make laws that seek to protect life and augment social justice and actually move to enforce them. Even when we do, we often then insidiously work to fail the enforcement of the very laws because of our selfish interests often exhibited through corruption and other vile ways. After all, apparently many seem to suppose that laws are made to be broken.
It is amazing that to date, Uganda is yet to pass a law that seeks to ably control tobacco use in the country.
This remains the state despite of the word and spirit of our 1995 constitution which provides under the Bill of rights in Chapter 4 inter alia, the right to health, clean environment and a right to life.
The urgent need of tobacco control laws in the country is premised on the fact that the absence of such regulations has effectively undermined efforts to protect the above mentioned rights.
Reliable statistics indicate that annually, Uganda loses approximately 13,500 people to tobacco-related illnesses. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today. It continues to claim more lives globally than HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
Despite these troubling statistics, one shudders why tobacco still remains the only legally available consumer product which kills it’s consumers even when used as intended.
In 2003, the World Health Organisation came up with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on realization of the importance of controlling tobacco use in the world. The framework in part obliges it’s signatories to move fast and take incremental action against tobacco consumption, advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
While all this was going on, back home here in Uganda, the Minister of Water, Land and Environment passed regulations issued under Statutory Instruments 2004 No. 12 on March, 12th 2004. These regulations sought to put in place “NO SMOKING” signs, create smoking zones, promote the right to a smoke free environment, and generally restrict smoking in public places. In addition to giving local governments power to make laws in relation to tobacco use, the regulations also provided for specific offences and the prescribed sanctions.
In June 2007, Uganda ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). By this action, the Uganda government effectively committed itself to putting in place a comprehensive Tobacco Control Act as fast as possible. This, of course is yet to materialize.
Despite these efforts, recent trends indicate that the law is largely weak and the prescribed penal sanctions on perpetrators are very undeterrent not to mention the enforcement nightmare. I don’t remember the last time i witnessed a person being brought before a court of law for breaching many of offences spelt out in the regulations.
While we continue to fail to effectively regulate tobacco use, many tobacco industries are expanding into Africa and continue to hook many of our young people to its products. Details from a fact sheet on the Uganda-National Global Youth Tobacco Survey (2010) revealed then that 15.6% of students had ever smoked cigarettes, at least 17% of children below 18 years start smoking at 9 years and others at 13 with girls being more prone to addiction. Many of those who have never smoked are more likely to start smoking next year due to peer pressure and weak laws.
The Uganda Demographic Health Survey 2011 further reveals that out of the 33 million Ugandans, about 15% of males and 3% of females between the ages of 15-49 use tobacco products.
On the point of the fatal second hand smoke which accounts for approximately 10% of the annual global 6 million preventable deaths, over 61% of smokers continue to expose their loved family members here in Uganda.
The first lady, Mama Janet Museveni and President Museveni have offered support to the Tobacco Control Bill and now it is the work of our parliament to swiftly debate and pass the Bill so we can move to have the law in place to save lives.
The debate on the economic benefits of tobacco have long been debated and settled. Without going into the specifics of the billions involved in the tobacco industry, tobacco farmers in West-Nile, South-Western Uganda, and areas of Masindi continue to live in abject poverty characterized by bondage of agricultural loans and there is little to show how lives have really been uplifted.
I have also gathered that the tobacco companies pay approximately 80 billion in direct taxes and yet the Uganda Cancer Institute where most cancer victims turn for a hope to live another day needs above 100 billion annually to handle it’s patients. Basically, more money is spent treating patients of tobacco use than the money generated as direct taxes. This doesn’t add up. And even if it did, it doesn’t make sense because behind these numbers are real lives and real families.
Above all, these same taxes are not per se paid by the tobacco companies themselves. The money is generated from the very patients who as consumers, have to pay the price transferred onto them by the companies on a price per stick of cigarette basis.
We need to urgently pass the Tobacco Control Bill 2012 and put in place a system which can provide oversight on tobacco use in the country, prohibit tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; regulate the manufacture and sale of tobacco products; protect the vulnerable people from consumption of second hand smoke, and generally stem tobacco use to encourage a healthy tobacco-free generation.