Growing call for strengthening tobacco control in Uganda

Joseph Elunya, CNS Correspondent, Uganda
[First published in The Continent Observer, Uganda]
Activists in Uganda are calling for increased sensitization of the public on the dangers posed by consumption of tobacco products. The theme of World No Tobacco Day 2014 is ‘Raise taxes on tobacco’. The goal of World No Tobacco Day is to protect people not only from the devastating health consequences due to tobacco, but also from the social, environmental and economic scourges of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

The specific goals of the 2014 campaign are that: governments increase taxes on tobacco to levels that reduce tobacco consumption; and individuals and civil society organizations encourage their governments to increase taxes on tobacco to levels that reduce consumption. Under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), countries should implement tax and price policies on tobacco products to reduce tobacco consumption.

Increasing excise taxes on tobacco is considered to be the most cost-effective tobacco control measure. Research shows that higher taxes are effective in reducing tobacco use among lower-income groups and in preventing young people from starting to smoke. A 10% increase in tobacco prices decreases tobacco consumption by about 4% in high-income countries, and by up to 8% in most low- and middle-income countries.

But anti-tobacco activists in Uganda say raising taxes on tobacco products alone is not enough. They that say increasing the price of tobacco products alone is not enough to discourage people from smoking.

“Raising taxes on tobacco cannot stop people from consuming it because smoking is an addiction for many of us. Environmental activists can only control the number of cigarettes smoked and maybe limit new entrants,” argues Magelah Peter Gwayaka, an activist and lawyer.

Gwayaka cites a legislation that was passed in Uganda to protect third parties from the effect of tobacco consumption by banning smoking in public places but it has not been enforced.
“There is a regulation that governs smoking in public places but it is rarely implemented. There is generally lack of capacity to enforce laws in Uganda. The regulations are largely unknown to the public and law enforcers plus there is lack of capacity in law enforcers (police and NEMA) to monitor and enforce compliance,” explained Gayaka.

In Uganda, smoking in public places was banned in February 2004. This followed the December 2002 declaration by the High Court that smoking in public places was a violation of non-smokers constitutional rights to life and to a clean and healthy environment. The declaration was in line with Uganda’s 2002 ratification of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the world’s first public health treaty on tobacco control. The treaty obliges countries to develop action plans for public policies, such as bans on tobacco advertising, tobacco tax and price increases, promoting smoke-free public places and workplaces and placing health messages on tobacco packaging.

In the 2002 High Court declaration, the judge ordered Uganda’s environmental watchdog, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to make regulations to prohibit smoking in public places within one year. According to these regulations, no person shall smoke a tobacco product or hold a lighted tobacco product in an enclosed, indoor area of a public place.The law also prohibits smoking in public service vehicles, aircrafts, trains or other public transport means. It has however rarely been implemented in Uganda.

Dr. Martin Okot, a lung health expert and President of Uganda Thoracic Society, urges the government of Uganda to come up with policies that can help in curbing the consumption of tobacco products. He says tobacco is among the leading cause of lung cancer disease in Uganda.

The World Health Report 2010 indicated that a 50% increase in tobacco excise taxes would generate a little more than US$ 1.4 billion in additional funds in 22 low-income countries. If this extra income is allocated to health, government health spending in these countries could increase by up to 50%.

Joseph Elunya, Citizen News Service - CNS
Kampala, Uganda
[First published in The Continent Observer, Uganda on 27 May 2014]