By Umaru Kashaka
UGANDAN scientists on Thursday warned of a tobacco epidemic in the making as they urged lawmakers to repeal the 1967 Tobacco Control and Marketing Act they say has increased tobacco consumption.
The Act also gives tobacco companies the power to determine prices and makes them the sole buyers of tobacco from farmers.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than one billion people worldwide will still use tobacco products by 2050, while an estimated 800,000 Ugandan adults currently use it.
The Centre for Tobacco Control Africa says 13,500 Ugandans die annually as a result of tobacco use.
The scientists under their umbrella body, the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAC), made the call while appearing before the parliamentary committee on health to give their views on Tobacco Control Bill 2014 that is expected to be passed into law this year.
Tabled in March by the Kinkizi East MP Chris Baryomunsi and referred to the committee of health for scrutiny by the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, the Bill seeks to control the manufacture, sale and use of tobacco products in the country.
It also seeks to prohibit smoking within 100 metres of any public place, workplace, and on public transport.
“Enticing youth to smoke ensures a new generation of consumers who will likely be lifetime. The ban will, therefore, help counter deceptive or misleading information from the tobacco industry and reduce youth exposure to such information,” Dr. Possy Mugyenyi told the committee chaired by the Kaberamaido MP, Kenneth Omona.
They said without comprehensive tobacco prevention and control policies, it is estimated that smoking prevalence in the African region will increase by nearly 39% by 2030, from 15.8% in 2010 to 21.9%--the largest expected regional increase globally.
They noted that despite decades of published research on the ill effects of tobacco, many people are unaware of or underestimate the risks of tobacco use, yet tobacco is estimated to kill up to one of every two users.
“In many countries in Africa, more than 10% of teenagers have been offered free cigarettes by representatives of the tobacco industry; evidence from North Africa shows that adolescents are more likely to smoke when exposed to promotion efforts,” Mugyenyi stressed.
Workers sorting tobacco leaves in a processing plant. Tobacco growing is a major source of income for a majority of farmers in Uganda.
He said this is particularly alarming for African nations like Uganda where roughly half of the population is under the age of 15 years.
Prof. Francis Omaswa argued that a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is required under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) for all Parties to this treaty within five years of the entry into force of the Convention for that Party.
“Most countries in Africa have signed and ratified the FCTC, but they have not yet fully implemented the interventions described in the treaty’s provisions. For Uganda, which ratified FCTC in 2007, a comprehensive ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship is not an option,” he said.
Tobacco farmers, however, are against the move saying it will rob them of the ready market they have always had for their tobacco harvest and make it hard to sell cigarettes in Uganda.
“We shall not be able to get services like hospitals and schools because these were made a requirement from the tobacco companies in the Act,” the spokesperson of tobacco farmers in the West Nile Morris Candia told New Vision.
There are an estimated 75,000 tobacco farmers in Uganda. The crop, a big earner for Uganda, is widely grown in Arua, Kanungu, Koboko, Kiryandongo, and Masindi districts.
In 2011, the government earned Shs87.5bn ($37.7m) in taxes from tobacco, making it one of the country's top 10 revenue sources.
Omona said they will soon ring down the curtain on the public hearing after interacting with officials from national environment management authority next week.
“We have been benchmarking in Kenya and very soon we shall process the Bill,” he said.