Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Delayed Uganda tobacco control bill set to be tabled before parliament

The Ugandan parliament is set to discuss a proposed new law to curb tobacco use in Uganda.This was disclosed on Tuesday, 1st November 2011, by Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of the national assembly of Uganda while launching a regional tobacco control agency-Center for Tobacco Control in Africa(CTCA) at Kasangati township, about 5 kilometers from the Kampala city centre.

The proposed anti-tobacco law known as the Tobacco Control Bill 2010 will be tabled before parliament under a private member's bill to be moved by Dr Chris Baryomunsi, Member of Parliament for Kinkizi constituency in South Western Uganda.

CTCA will be a regional agency for Tobacco control in five countries including Uganda, Kenya, Angola and South Africa and will be mandated to support governments in the region to build and sustain institutional capacity for Tobacco Control in Africa, according to Dr Possy Mugyenyi, the manager of the centre.

'This centre is the first of its kind in the world' said Dr Joaquim Saweka, WHO’s Uganda country representative, at the opening ceremony and 'a dream come true' according to Dr Christine Ondoa, Uganda’s health minister.

The CTCA is funded through a, three year, US$ 3.5 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant which was a won through a WHO-mediated competitive grant that attracted 20 competitors from all over Africa.

According to the WHO, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide. Globally, it causes more deaths than AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria combined. Smoking is also estimated to kill half a billion people in the world over the next fifty years.

'' Tobacco use is the only disease that is associated with all major Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as Lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, tuberculosis, asthma, pneumonia'' said Dr Douglas Bettcher, the head of WHO's global tobacco control at Geneva who was present at the opening ceremony.

He also mentioned that tobacco use in women causes infertility and leads to low birth weight among tobacco-using mothers. For men, tobacco use is a risk factor for impotence.

The Tobacco Control Bill 2010 was drafted by tobacco control advocates in Uganda spearheaded by the Uganda National Tobacco Control Association. One of the proposals in the bill is a two-month jail sentence for public-smoking offenders.

Uganda is a signatory to the WHO framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which is a set of internationally-agreed strategies for Tobacco control and has force of international law. The FCTC calls for a ban on advertising on tobacco products, display of graphic warnings in cigarette packs, increase in tobacco taxes, alternatives to tobacco farming etc.

At the opening ceremony, a theme song for tobacco control was unveiled and was presented by popular musicians who included Keko and Dr Hilderman who made an original composition which should catch on as an anthem for tobacco control advocates in Uganda. 'Smoking is not cool' raps Keko one of the performers at the opening ceremony. Fittingly, the theme song was composed by the younger, hip generation who constitute the 'breeding ground' for the tobacco industry especially young people in Ugandan secondary schools.

Because of an effective tobacco control regulatory regime in western advanced countries which has constrained the operations and profits of tobacco companies such as Phillip Morris and BAT in western countries, Africa is seen as a lucrative alternative, an untapped market with weak anti tobacco laws and regulations and tobacco giants have set their sights on Africa as a the 'new' hope of the tobacco industry.

‘Be wary of multinational companies which come here and sell you death in the name of freedom. These are merchants of death. The tobacco disease epidemic is already here’ said Professor Peter Odhiambo of University of Nairobi in Kenya who delivered a public lecture on tobacco control at Serena Hotel in Kampala in honour of the newly opened Center for Tobacco Control in Africa(CTCA).

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