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World No Tobacco Day

By Henry Zakumumpa

The tobacco control bill can protect children and young people from tobacco advertising

Every year on May 31, the world stops to reflect on the millions of lives lost to tobacco use around the world and the one billion set to lose their lives to tobacco use this century unless current trends are reversed.

Uganda already has AIDS and malaria to worry about and yet a perfectly preventable epidemic of tobacco-use associated diseases is brewing. Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death globally and is currently responsible for killing one in 10 adults worldwide. Globally, tobacco use kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis combined.


This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has selected theme of the ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Scientific studies unequivocally show that a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising has been followed by a reduction in cigarette consumption, and that children and young people are more vulnerable to deceptive tobacco advertising.

On June 24, 2007, Uganda became a signatory to the first global public health treaty in history known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) part of which commits countries to institute a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) under article 13.

Last year between June and August, I was principal investigator in a survey to investigate Uganda’s compliance with the ban on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotions made possible by a grant from the Geneva-based Framework Convention Alliance (FCA).

Our research team scoured four key streets in each of the survey towns of Kampala, Gulu and Mbarara, to reflect three strategic parts of Uganda, to collect data on Uganda’s compliance on the ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.  As we commemorate World No Tobacco Day, it is an opportune moment to disseminate the findings of this study.

First the good news:

Our research team did not come across any billboard advertising tobacco in the streets of Kampala, Gulu and Mbarara we visited which suggests that direct tobacco advertising has reduced considerably.

And now, the not so good news:

The tobacco industry in Uganda has changed strategy from direct to indirect advertising in response to advertising restrictions. It circumvents the ban on advertising through innovative indirect forms of advertising such as  ‘corporate social responsibility schemes’, product launches and promotions,  branding and more recently, cigarette price increases in the print media.

Violations at retail outlets are widespread in Uganda and considerable pictorial evidence was compiled for this report in the three towns visited. Point of Sale violations were abundant at super markets, kiosks and stalls, bars, gas stations .The violations are in form of posters, umbrella shades, branded display cases and branded tobacco company vehicles.

Ugandan youth have been especially targeted by the industry as the tobacco posters we came across were in places favoured by youth such as night clubs. Tobacco promotional events happen in youth hang outs. A 2002 Global Youth Survey revealed that almost 60% of Ugandan youth had seen pro-cigarette ads in newspapers and magazines in the past 30 days.

The industry especially targets youth because they are impressionable and therefore more susceptible to acting on tobacco messages, an irresistible lure of recruiting life-long clients to replace half of their clientele who eventually die from tobacco use. Additionally, countries like Uganda have very young populations compared to say Europe with the majority under the age of 30 and therefore a potentially lucrative market.

In low and middle income countries, a third of young people own an object with a cigarette logo-according to the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung disease.

Unsurprisingly, the Tobacco Atlas (2012) lists Uganda among countries with a ‘complete absence of the ban on tobacco advertising’. The WHO 2009 report card on Uganda indicates there is no national ban on tobacco advertising,

With the Tobacco Control Bill (2012) coming before parliament soon, Uganda needs to follow in the footsteps of Kenya which instituted a  ban in 2007, South Africa in 1999 and Ghana in 2012, to legislate for a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in all its forms, both direct and indirect.

The writer is a PhD candidate at Makerere University’s School of Public Health, Department of Health Policy planning.

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