Uganda is out of step with other East African countries such as Tanzania and Kenya which have enacted tobacco control law.
Any avid reader of the print media in the past few months will have noticed a sustained campaign against the proposed Tobacco Control Bill 2011, perpetrated by the Ugandan tobacco industry.
The Uganda Tobacco Control Bill 2011 was initially presented before parliament in December 2011 as a private members bill by Dr Chris Baryomunsi. Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah referred the bill back for re-drafting.
BAT Uganda has made unsolicited comments about the proposed bill through press reports in Daily Monitor (May 31, 2012 and July 9, 2012) and the Independent (July 11, 2012) ,The New Vision (April 2, 2012). All these articles bear the handprint of BAT since they carry the same carefully choreographed message, no matter who is being interviewed.
The press reports in question fail the balance test for any Journalist worth their name and the Ugandan public is being fed with a grossly imbalanced picture on the need for a Tobacco control law.
They are quick to promote how the tobacco industry, which the proposed bill will purportedly curtail, is economically indispensable to Uganda as a major contributor of government tax revenue and facilitator of tobacco farmers’ livelihoods.
What the articles fail to report is the following:
Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today. Tobacco claims more lives globally than HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria combined. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unless urgent action is taken, tobacco could kill one billion people during this century.
“Tobacco use is the only risk factor associated with all major non-communicable diseases such as lung cancer, diabetes and heart diseases. It is a risk factor for six out of eight leading causes of death, globally” said Dr Douglas Bettcher, Head of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative.
Although the Uganda tobacco industry is keen to highlight their economic importance, they are not telling Ugandans the whole story.
Despite their self-reported contribution of Shs 60 billion in annual tax revenue, the Uganda Cancer Institute recently made a request of over Shs 100 billion to treat cancer, including tobacco-use associated cancers.
A World Bank study shows that for every dollar earned as tax revenue on tobacco products, three are spent on treating tobacco-related illnesses.
Another study conducted at Mulago Hospital shows that 75% of patients with oral cancer had a history of smoking, with the number of years of smoking ranging from 2-33 years, according to a 2008 study report by Fredrick Musoke of Makerere University.
In a research we are conducting, preliminary results show that a significant percentage of patients attending the Uganda Heart Institute at Mulago Hospital have a history of Tobacco use.
And that story on tax revenue on tobacco products?
‘’It is not the tobacco companies which pay tobacco taxes, it is the smokers,’’ counters Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, who argues that taxes on tobacco are simply passed on to consumers.
Tobacco growing farmers in the districts of Arua, Kanungu and Hoima are some of the poorest people in Uganda. President Museveni, while visiting Arua District recently, was astonished at the poverty levels among tobacco-growing farmers there and publicly commented on it. Perhaps it is not so surprising that MPs from Tobacco-growing districts are some of the most passionate Tobacco control advocates, pushing for alternative livelihoods for their constituents.
In June 2007, Uganda ratified the Framework convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a set of internationally-agreed strategies for tobacco control that has the force of international law. The FCTC calls for a ban on advertising of tobacco products, the display of graphic warnings on cigarette packs, an increase in tobacco taxes and promotion of alternatives to tobacco farming.
According to Rachel Kitonyo, a Kenyan working with the Africa Tobacco Control Consortium, Uganda is out of step with other East African countries such as Tanzania and Kenya. Kenya passed a Tobacco control law in 2007).
The drafting process of the Tobacco Control Bill 2011 is now almost complete and Dr Baryomunsi is expected to table it before Parliament in the coming weeks.