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Tobacco companies hampered implementation of law-Ministry of Health

FILE PHOTO: Tobacco cigarettes.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Tobacco Control Act was enacted in 2015.

However, the Health Ministry says the law has been shelved because of numerous injunctions and lawsuits filed by tobacco companies.

Addressing stakeholders during the commemoration of the World No Tobacco Day in Kampala on Thursday, the Health State Minister, Sarah Opendi, said government hands were tied in as far as implementing the tobacco law is concerned.

She said there is no way government would enforce the law with pending suits in courts of law. Opendi noted that since the matter is now out of court, Uganda will be free of tobacco smoke.

Earlier this week, the Constitutional Court dismissed an application by BAT challenging the enactment of the Tobacco Control Act, saying it contravenes their right to business.

Dr. Jim Arinaitwe, the Manager of the Center for Tobacco Control in Africa, said that little or no work could be done until the court suits are disposed of.

Dr. Hasfa Lukwata, the National Tobacco Focal Person in the Health Ministry, says following the constitutional court decision, the ministry is to start enforcing sections of the law starting the 2019/2020 financial year.

“Currently cigarette packaging doesn’t bear warning pictures or signs. Starting this year, this is going to change. All cigarettes sold on the market will be mandated to have big graphic images of the dangers associated with smoking. This is already done in some developed countries,” she said.

Dr. Lukwata says that they are also going to target tourists with no tobacco adverts. “In many places, it is common to find tourists or foreign nationals smoking in open space. We are going to set up a campaign targeting this group right from the airport so that they know smoking in public is illegal in the country from the moment they enter,” she said.

Once regulation of the law starts, people found smoking in public or smoke free zones like Kampala will be prosecuted. They are liable to a fine not exceeding Shillings 200,000 or imprisonment for not more than five months.

Dr. Daniel Okello, the Health Director Kampala Capital City Authority-KCCA, says one of the areas that need urgent regulation is smuggling of tobacco substances like shisha.

According to WHO, the prevalence of smoking tobacco in Uganda in 2018 stood at 17 percent. Data from a 2013 study carried by Makerere University Lung Institute shows that the biggest danger of smoking is passive smoking.

The study showed that at the time over 900,000 people in Uganda smoked. However, around 5 million people were affected by being around smokers.

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