Madam Speaker, pass the Uganda Tobacco Control bill 2012
On 4th February 2013, the Ugandan parliament will reconvene
from an eventful recess in which a head-on collision between two competing arms
of government was averted through the choice,
by one arm, of ‘ a path of least resistance’.
More earnestly, today is an opportune moment for our
August house to reflect on the task before them especially of dispensing with a
long queue of backlog bills, about 23 of them inherited from the 8th
These include; the controversial anti-homosexuality
bill, the anti-counterfeit bill, Plant Varieties Bill and the critically
important Industrial properties bill which could help legalize generic HIV
drugs on which millions survive.
But first, the Tobacco control bill 2012.
Since the bill was first introduced to parliament, 13,500
Ugandans have died from tobacco-use diseases-according to credible statistics
by the Center for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA).
The Ugandan tobacco industry continues to engage in
unprecedented open print media advertising in blatant contravention of a 1995 Uganda
government directive banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
with no regulatory regime to bring the industry to account.
Children as young as six can buy, unfettered, a
stick of cigarette at kiosks and stalls across the country.
Cigarette sales in Uganda have been rising
consistently for the past three years. BAT (Uganda) in its published report in
2011 announced a 29% increase in cigarette sales. Little wonder then that
western tobacco giants see unregulated Africa
as the lucrative alternative to dwindling profits in heavily regulated western markets.
Smoking among middle-class young females in Uganda
is visibly on the increase with many’ sophisticated’ young Ugandan women tragic
victims of the industry’s peddled myth of ‘smoking is cool’.
Smoking of ‘shisha’ has become a craze in up market
bars in Kampala and the growing exotic community, with smokers deluding themselves
that it is harmless to them and those around them.
Tobacco farmers in Arua, Kanungu and Masindi
continue to live a life of extreme poverty and bondage by the tobacco industry
which enslaves them with loans for agricultural inputs such as fertilizers while
paying them a paltry sum for their hard-labour produce.
In the Tobacco growing areas in Kanungu district
which I personally witnessed, widespread use of fertilizers for the tobacco
crop has literally poisoned the waters for people, animals and crops alike.
Any concerned Ugandan can do a random sample of ten
bars in Kampala
and light up (even when ‘no smoking’ signs are erected) and you can be sure no
one will stop you. The truth is that smoking in public places in Uganda is
banned by law (since 2004), although not a soul has been charged in court for
this widespread offence.
I am a perennial visitor to the Uganda Heart
Institute at Mulago and anyone can see that an unprepared Uganda is already in
the throes of an epidemic of diseases of the heart and blood-vessels and a
study we did last year confirmed that a significant percentage of those
attending the institute have a history of smoking, our lifestyles aside.
The lung cancer case load at Uganda Cancer Institute
is swelling. A study done by Fredrick Musoke of Makerere University shows that
75% of oral cancer patients at Mulago Hospital have a history of tobacco-use
and that it takes as little as three years to contract oral cancer.
The tobacco control bill 2012 proposes a committee
with statutory powers and oversight function on tobacco control in the country
with sufficient regulatory flexibility to respond to changes in the industry.
It prohibits tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; it protects individuals
from exposure to second hand smoke; provides for price and tax measures for
tobacco control; prohibits sale to and by minors; calls for alternative
livelihood crops for tobacco farmers.
The Ugandan tobacco industry has sponsored a
sustained a media campaign against the bill through tobacco ‘farmers’ front
groups and peddling falsehoods which include that the bill bans tobacco crop growing.
Uganda is already behind its East African counterparts; Tanzania and Kenya (in 2007) which have already
passed tobacco control laws.