Why the Tobacco Act is not being Implemented
By Sarah Achen
Scientific evidence indicates that tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke cause lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, cancers, high blood pressure, hearts attacks and stroke and eventually death. Tobacco use causes miscarriages, premature aging and impotence in men.
People who use tobacco suffer nutritional deficiencies due to loss of appetite and this makes them more vulnerable to infections and other disease. Tobacco farmers suffer from green leaf disease caused by penetration of tobacco into their skin while handling the tobacco leaves.
Given the high negative health, economic and social consequences of tobacco growing, production and consumption the government of Uganda while fulfilling its obligations under the first international public health treaty enacted the tobacco control Act 2015 which took effect on 19 May 19. To some sections of the public, the Act is not being implemented well as others believe the act is being implemented so we decided to speak to the stakeholders to tell us what the problem is and below are their views.
According to Richard Baguma the coordinator of Uganda Health Communication Alliance, implementing the Act is the role of government. Tobacco Control Act is like any other law, it’s not any different so meaning that it should not be given special treatment of some sort since it was passed by parliament and ascended to by the president.
“The provision states among others that if anybody is found smoking in public places, workplaces and means of transport, he or she shall pay a penalty of up to Shs200, 000 or imprisonment for up to five months or both,” Baguma adds. All the agencies involved in the campaign must do their part to ensure that we don’t continue with preventable deaths, diseases and all the problems that come with tobacco and also the laxity must stop if we are to protect the health of the future generations and Ugandans.
Currently, there is a pending ministerial statement in delayed payment of tobacco growers from Bunyoro and Arua districts faulting two companies.
Who is to blame?
Last month, over 30 shisha smokers were arrested by police in an operation led by Kira road division police commander Filbert Waibi several smoker were picked from places of happening like Cayenne, Casablanca, Dinners and Panamera bars.
The divisional CID officer of Central Police Station, Joshua Tusingwire explains that most of the classified drugs that people are taking are poisonous and pose a serious effect on health. They include shisha, opium among others are. “Although it’s government’s duty to protect the health of people it’s their role to keep away from them substances.
There is need for more public sensitization if people are stop using drugs because over indulgence may lead to serious diseases,” he adds.
Daniel Kadobera an Epidemiologist at Tobacco Control Program Ministry of Health disagrees that the law is not being implemented despite many challenges. “Police has been enforcing the law but couple of areas of the law still needs understanding for better implementation,” he adds. Regulations to do with implementation of smoke free areas, setting up of the National Tobacco Control Committee in place. We need complete understanding of the law for effective enforcement as some drinking joints are located near some police stations yet nothing has been done about it.
This is an indication that the agencies who are supposed to do their job are not doing it. Several managers of radio stations, hotels and bars are not even putting the very simple things like a notice for smokers; most of them are against the law.
Kadobera further says that the Ministry has developed a popular version of the law which is a one pager summary to ease the work of the police in doing their work. However, the public should also understand that the enforcement starts with them before they seek support from police. If you find a person smoking in illegally, you must remind them that the law prohibits that practice and only call in the police after you have failed. Remember it’s your health that is will be affected in the long run and as a ministry several initiatives have been designed including radio programs, billboards, sensitizing the public especially the youth against smoking before the age of 21 years.
A passionate Tobacco Control expert who quotes the Act says that Act needs to be analyzed critically in a bid to implement it without stepping on another person’s toes. A law can be shunned by society if either they don’t understand the spirit of it or have not understood what it’s all about. The evidence is that the law is needed for tobacco industry to be regulated and it’s also good for the individuals especially the young people. “The parties accused need to be given time to clear off what is left of their stock before the implementation starts. The public is ignorant of the law, majority think it targets tobacco farmers which is not true,” says the advocate. Interventions by the ministry, Uganda Health Communication Alliance, Uganda National Health Consumers Organization among other tobacco advocates have yielded progress.
Elsa Zawedde a lawyer from Centre for Health Human Rights and Development- CEHURD says that section 19 of the Act states that everybody is tasked with the duty to ensure the law is implemented. We plead with government to facilitate the implementation of the Act. According to section 11, every person has a right to a tobacco smoke free environment. A person consuming a product shall ensure that they don’t expose another person to tobacco smoke.
Zawedde also notes that section 12 generally prohibits smoking in public places, work places and means of transport, we therefore advise that those smoking should not smoke at the expense of others but adheres to the law and not smokes in public places.