Experts are still confident that the battle against tobacco will be accomplished
The war against smoking will still be won, despite recent revelations that the tobacco industry has been using bribes to influence policy, experts have said.
According to a recent BBC investigation, British American Tobacco (BAT) paid bribes to officials in East Africa, including two members of a convention created under the World Health Organization (WHO) to combat smoking.
However, experts are still confident that the battle against tobacco will be accomplished.
In an interview with New Vision, Anna Gilmore, a professor of Public Health and Director of the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, UK stated:
"We can absolutely win the anti-tobacco war and we are winning: We have a global tobacco control treaty that looked impossible to achieve at the time; this treaty is now being implemented - more and more tobacco control policies are being implemented globally."
Gilmore particularly noted that Uganda has recently passed strong tobacco control legislation, which was a big step forward.
"This was achieved despite enormous opposition from the tobacco industry," observes Gilmore
However, she stressed that this progress was only possible "if everyone stands up to the tobacco industry and hold it accountable. "
"Tobacco companies are like cockroaches, they thrive in the dark. Progress is only possible if we shine a light on their corrupt activities and expose their lies. This is starting to happen in Uganda and it was key to getting the Tobacco Control Bill passed. But the bill must now be gazetted and we need to keep shining that light."
She called for the need for BAT to be held accountable over the bribery claims.
"No company should be allowed to put their profits above the health and economic well-being of states."
"We need to remember that tobacco kills one in two of its long-term users, that tobacco control policies save lives and enable economic development. That means that every one of these payments that leads to a tobacco control policy being weakened, delayed or blocked causes unnecessary deaths. In other words, these payments have a death count attached to them," she said
"It is essential therefore that BAT is held to account. Bribery is illegal under the 2010 UK Bribery Act & under the Anti Corruption Act, 2009 (Uganda). We now need a series of full and public inquiries into BAT's conduct. We need to know who else has been bribed, where else is this happening, what else is the company up to, what did those at the highest level know?" Gilmore added
However in a separate interview, Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, the principal medical officer and anti-tobacco activist described the evidence in the report as hugely biased. In the BCC investigation, it is alleged that Bugangaizi West MP Kasirivu-Atwooki took $20,000 (about Shs67 million) from BAT company as an inducement to doctor a parliamentary report.
But Ndyananagi stated: "Our problem is that the Ugandan people implicated in that report are people who helped us come up with a bill. We took the findings with mixed feelings. When it comes to implementation those people may not help us at the time we need them."