Government failing to implement the Tobacco Control Act

GULU – After seven years, the Government of Uganda is still far from fully implementing the Tobacco Control Act.

The implementation of the Tobacco Control Act still hangs in balance, as local governments struggle to enforce sections of the law.

In 2015, Uganda enacted a law to control the demand, consumption, and supply of tobacco to the population.

The law aimed at protecting the environment from the effects of producing tobacco and exposure to tobacco smoke hence reducing related deaths.

Article [12] section [1and 2] of the law prohibits smoking in public places, or in any public transport and other outdoor places.

The offenders of a crime of such nature are liable to pay a fine of 20 currency points or a jail sentence of not less than 6 months by a competent court.

However, seven years later, production and exposure to tobacco smoke continuously unabetted in public hence a threat to humans and nature.

The Program Officer, Control Substance Use, and the Mental Health division of the Ministry of Health, Patience Butesi said, the government spends much more money on treating tobacco-related illness than the revenue collected from tobacco.

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning reports that from every 0.03 dollars of revenue collected from tobacco, the government spends 3 dollars in treating tobacco-related illnesses that include respiratory and cancer diseases.

The Ministry of Health revealed that at least 1,780 cancer patients seek treatment at Mulago Cancer Institute annually while 12,184 patients turn to the National Heart Institute which cost the government Shs13.2 billion expenditure on treatment.

The annual tobacco-related deaths rate stands at 6 million people globally according to a World Health Organization 2020 report; 600,000 of whom are non-smokers who were exposed to chemical compounds.

In her argument, Butesi noted that a cigarette contains more than 700 cancerous causing chemical compounds and other poisonous gases affecting the lungs and internal organs while its global related death rate stands at 10 percent.

At the Uganda Cancer Institute, the statistics show that, for every 1000 Ugandans who turn to the facility, more than 350 of them battle the different types of cancer diseases with the survival rate only standing at 20 percent.

At Gulu Cancer Registry in St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor, more than 1,350 cancer patients in the four districts of Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya, and Omoro sought treatment in the facility between 2016 and 2020 but the majority could not afford expensive treatment.

Gulu district deputy Chief Administrative Officer [CAO] Sonyi Mugoya however noted that, much as the government is establishing regional cancer institutes, there is a need for the country to restrict the production and importation of tobacco.

“What we consume here are products being imported and that is where the challenge is for government,” Mugoya said.

William Onyai, the Gulu District Health Educator noted that prohibition of tobacco products in the region will likely come with adverse implications to the traditional tobacco farmers who derive their livelihoods from such production.

Onyai, urges the Ministry of Agriculture to engage the farmers as the country battles to reduce tobacco-related illnesses and deaths. He further advises farmers to take advantage of the parish development model.

Article 11 of the Tobacco Control Act provides for a free smoke environment, little is done on the enforcement and the products are still being sold in open places mainly along the streets in Gulu City and hangout places.

Moses Talibita, the Legal Officer, Uganda National Health Consumer Organization which is partnering with the Ministry of Health against tobacco production and consumption says, Gulu risks becoming a city with the highest number of smokers.

He explained that the implementation of the section of the law was slowed down when private companies promoting the product in the country took the government to court but they lost the case in 2018 in the constitutional court.

He however noted that government is in a nationwide campaign for enforcing the law adding that the local governments are currently undergoing training for implementation of the law which was flagged off from Gulu.

“We are targeting Gulu to save it from becoming a City with the highest number of smokers especially at the time we don’t have adequate health facilities to handle tobacco-related illness,” Talibita told theCooperator in an interview.

According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the West Nile region still has the highest prevalence of smokers at 33.7 percent while most of the farmers only earn 33 percent of what they have invested in the farm due to its labor-intensive nature.

Meanwhile, in June 2007, Uganda ratified World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control two years after the United Nations embraced and adopted the convention.

The convention was developed in response to the tobacco epidemic as an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health.

Whereas the Convention represents a milestone for the promotion of public health and provides new legal dimensions for international health cooperation, Uganda is still far from the implementation of its domesticated law.

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