Monday, July 16, 2012

The Ugandan Tobacco industry frustrating government’s proposed Tobacco control law

Any avid follower of the Ugandan print media in the past few months will have noticed by now a sustained media 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, moved under 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 Tobacco control bill through press reports in Daily Monitor ( 31st May 2012 and 9th July 2012) and the Independent (12th July 2012) ,The New Vision (2nd April 2012).  These articles bear the hallmarks 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. 

These articles are quick to promote the BAT angle of how they are economically indispensable to Uganda through government tax revenue and tobacco farmers’ livelihoods which the proposed bill will purportedly curtail. What the articles fail to report is the following:

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today. Tobacco use 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 (NCDs) 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 to Uganda they are not telling Ugandans the whole story.

Despite their self-reported contribution of 60 billion in annual tax revenue, the Uganda Cancer Institute recently made a request of over 100 billion to treat cancers, including Tobacco-use associated cancers.

A World Bank study shows that for every dollar earned as tax revenue on tobacco products, three dollars are spent on treating tobacco-related illnesses.

Another study conducted at Mulago Hospital, 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 so. MPs from Tobacco-growing districts are ironically some of the most passionate Tobacco control advocates pushing for alternative livelihoods for their constituents.

Uganda ratified the Framework convention on  Tobacco Control (FCTC) in June 2007, which is a set of internationally-agreed strategies for tobacco control that has 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 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 Tanzania and (Kenya which  passed a Tobacco control law in 2007).

The drafting process of the Tobacco Control Bill 2011 is now almost complete with Dr Chris Baryomunsi expected to table it before parliament in the coming weeks.

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