By John Odyek
The tobacco industry leaders in Uganda have expressed concern about the new legislation to regulate the industry saying it might suffocate tobacco farming and investments in the country.
Representatives of the industry have said they support the proposed Tobacco Control Bill 2014 bill but warn that it produces an unintended effect of banning tobacco growing instead of regulating the industry and consumption of cigarettes.
They therefore want sections of the bill reviewed before it is passed by Parliament. The industry leaders made the call on Thursday during a meeting with Members of Parliament. It was held at Sheraton Kampala Hotel. Present were nervous tobacco farmers other stakeholders.
In 2012/13 tax contributions from the tobacco sector amounted to sh105b and leaf exports earned over sh200b. Over sh81b is paid to farmers in crop purchase and transporters get over sh20b.
Jonathan D’Souza, managing director British American Tobacco Uganda said Clause 49 of the Bill seeks to abolish the Tobacco (Control & Marketing) Act without replacing it with any law.
“Over 60,000 farmers grow tobacco in Uganda under the sponsorship of licensed tobacco companies which are obliged to purchase the crop. Repeal of the Act would threaten the livelihood of farmers, the revenues and investments,” D’Souza also a spokesman for the industry said.
He explained repeal of the Act will create a legal and structural vacuum for the governance of tobacco growing and buying operations since the Bill makes no provision to regulate it.
He added that the clause is not clear whether the subsidiary legislation made under the Tobacco (Control and Marketing) Act are repealed.
He proposed that the clause be deleted from the Bill as the Tobacco (Control and Marketing) Act and Regulations regulate growing and purchase of leaf tobacco which the current Bill does not address and both of these laws can co-exist.
He said Clause 15 (3) of bill seeks to ban the display of tobacco products at any point of sale, other than being visible momentarily at the time of a sales transaction. “There is no evidence to support a ban on tobacco displays. The display of tobacco products in retail stores does not increase the initiation or prevalence of smoking or discourage those who attempt to quit”.
“The display of products is necessary for fair brand competition among manufacturers. Display bans would distort competition among tobacco companies by inhibiting new product launches and new market entrants. Display bans would also increase the illicit tobacco trade by driving legal tobacco sales under the counter,” he said.
He said clause 14 (2) wants the health warning on packets to occupy 75% of the display area of packets instead of the current 30%.
“There is no credible evidence to show that increasing the size of health warnings on packets and introducing graphic health warnings has resulted in a reduction in smoking rates,” he said.
Milton Muwuma (Kigulu South) said the stiff penalty for people caught smoking in public places might lead to the crowding of prisons. The bill proposes a fine of sh200,000 or imprisonment for a person convicted for smoking in public. Muwuma said in Nakasongola district, prisons were crowded by illegal fishermen who failed to pay fines of sh300,000.
Bwambale Bihande (Bukonjo East) said if smoking was banned it would create a lucrative black market. Bihande said during a war time in Uganda, he and his friends risked moving out of their houses to look for cigarettes. He said it is parenting and not laws that can control smoking by children.
Wadri Kasiano (Terego county) asked that the livelihood of tobacco farmers should not be threatened. He said tobacco farmers have used their earnings to pay school fees and could lose their livelihoods if no alternatives were given. Tobacco farming take place in over 25 districts and tobacco is one of the leading foreign exchange earners for Uganda.
Sam Otada (Kibanda county) said Parliament needs to be calm in coming out with a law on tobacco. “We cannot regulate for a perfect world. Otherwise we have to legislate on fizzy drinks, fast foods, fatty oils. We need a balanced legislation,” Otada said.
The Bill seeks to protect the public from health consequences from tobacco use, regulate the sale, labeling, manufacture, promotion, advertising, protect minors from smoking and protect the environment from degradation caused by tobacco activities. MPs promised to review some clauses of the bill.