Tobacco control law: Health vs business

At least more than 75,000 people in Uganda directly depend on tobacco. Out of these 60,000 are low end farmers in West Nile and western Uganda.

However, the industry, according to available data, kills a number of people, which the World Health Organisation puts at 13,500 deaths in Uganda alone annually.

Although it is difficult to verify, there are claims that government spends Shs10,350 ($3) to treat tobacco related-illnesses. The expenditure does not compare well with the Shs3,450 ($1) that government receives from tobacco-related revenues, according to World Health Organisation.

The game of numbers
Thus, the tobacco story is a game of numbers and will always invite controversy every time it is up for debate.
In 2011, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, the MP for Kinkiizi County East introduced to Parliament a private member’s bill, which sought to control tobacco-related activities, including access to and sell of its products.

The Bill, which was followed by a lot of debate, continues to be discussed even after it was passed by Parliament last week.
Whereas those supporting the Tobacco Control Bill 2014, which has now become law, say tobacco does not add much good to Uganda, given its impact on health, those for argue the Bill is oppressive and unfair to legally licenced businesses.

The divisions have also worked up government departments pitting two ministries – Trade and Health against each other.
The divisions have mostly been visible after the two failed to agree on how to find a balance in the tobacco law.

Just like a number of stakeholders, the Trade ministry feels the Bill’s main objective is not to regulate the manufacture and sale, but to create a phased approach that will ultimately squeeze out tobacco businesses.

Stakeholders, including Private Sector Foundation Uganda and the Uganda Law Society argue the Bill is unfair, saying it only seeks to oppress legally licenced businesses.

They also say the law sets a bad precedent and will be a deterrent to future investments not only in the tobacco industry but across the economy.

Trade vs health
Before the Bill was passed last week it had been deferred twice, however James Shinyabulo Mutende, the State Minister for Industry, told Daily Monitor in an interview: “I have no regrets. I hope that was the last of it”.

“As the ministry that promotes trade and industrialisation I am happy that that uncoordinated Bill was deferred. And I can tell you that Bill is now as good as dead,” he said.
Pressed to explain what he meant, Mutende said: “Let the dead Bill lie in peace.”

But his argument would be a bad song to proponents of the law, including Dr Baryomunsi, the Health state minister, who says the Bill had been agreed on in Cabinet where Mutende sits.
“there is nothing much that can be done to stop the legislation into taking effect,” he said adding, as a member of WHO, Uganda has an obligation to domesticate the tobacco legislation.”

On its website, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control demands that member countries must abide by legal obligations as well as implementing laid down initiatives.

Claims of blackmail
Ever since the Bill was presented in Parliament, claims of blackmail on either part – manufacturers and proponents have played out on a daily.

Key among them was the claim that British American Tobacco Uganda (Batu) was targeting Dr Baryomuni after the company suspended the purchase of tobacco leaf in Kihihi, a part of Dr Baryomunsi’s constituency.

In a report published by the UK-based Observer newspaper, Enó Isong, the associate director, International Communications Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said it was very clear that the tobacco industry was shifting its market to Africa – “a young market where they can bully their way around.”

This, he said in reference to a letter that Batu had written to Dr Baryomunsi, confirming it would no longer do business with the 709 farmers in Kihihi.

Before Batu ceded the leaf business in 2013, it would by tobacco from more than 20,000 farmers in Uganda and Baryomunsi said [then] he was under no illusions about why the company had targeted the farmers in his constituency first.

“Although they said it was a business decision, the reason was merely blackmail,” Baryomunsi told the Observer newspaper then.
However, Batu persistently rejected the accusations, saying: “If Ugandan tobacco leaf becomes uncompetitive abroad, we have to look at other options. Regrettably, the uncertainty in Uganda, which may make it unnecessarily costly for us to source tobacco from there, has forced us to review our growing operations in Kihihi.”

Currently, an estimated 60,000 farmers grow tobacco in Uganda under the sponsorship of licenced tobacco companies, which are obliged to purchase the crop, hence providing a ready market.

looking at some of the Contested articles

The point of contention, as most stakeholders would agree is not to defeat logical regulation but create an environment around which tobacco businesses can survive even under strict control.

To a number of stakeholders, regulations like imposing large health warnings covering 65 per cent of the face of cigarette packets, barring smoking within 50 metres of public buildings, prohibiting aertising, banning of point of sale display marketing, raising the smoking age from 18 to 21 and limiting interaction between government and tobacco lobby, are not only unfair and oppressive to tobacco companies but will put them out of business.

Mr Dadson Mwaura, the Batu managing director, recently told this newspaper that they were not against being regulated “but this should be done fairly”.

“We are not against being regulated. What we are asking for is fairness and a regulation that is fact-based,” he said.

The law also demands that cigarettes must be bought in packets. A pack of cigarette, according to Uganda measurements, contains at least 20 sticks. The justification for this is to make it hard for children to access or afford it.

NUMBERS
60,000
The number of farmers that depend on tobacco.

13,500
The number of people who die in Uganda due to tobacco related illnesses.

iladu@ug.nationmedia.com

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