Tobacco industry interference still prominent in Uganda

25 Jan 2016

Thanks to pressure from tobacco control advocates, a few pictorial health warnings also came into force in the new bill, but they still need to be rotated.

Despite the damaging effects of tobacco products on human health, Uganda still finds it difficult to take significant control measures to reduce its toll, for fear of economic consequences, such as loss of thousands of jobs and government revenues. The tobacco industry readily undermines tobacco control policies and programs, despite Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which urges Parties to protect public health policies relating to tobacco control from tobacco industry interests.

Uganda is a party to the FCTC, which it ratified in 2007.

Ad ban ineffective

In 1995, for example, the government banned the advertisement of tobacco control products on state media (radio and television). The tobacco industry simply changed tactics, gradually replacing aggressive billboard advertising with brand stretching (using their well-known branding to sell different products), ads in the electronic media, at points of sale and on neon signs of restaurants, bars, shops, supermarkets and on road signs.

Tobacco products are widely available and openly sold in supermarkets, small retail shops markets, kiosks, liquor stores and road sides.

Other advertising tactics used by the industry in Uganda are cartoons in the form of cigarette sticks, which target children. These covert activities to promote tobacco use have increased demand among the youth and a section of adults depending on their social status, style/fashion and peer influence.

BAT dominates market

Four major transnational tobacco companies operate in Uganda: British American Tobacco (BAT), Intercontinental, Leaf Tobacco Exports and Super Match. BAT is dominant, with 80 percent of the market share.

On several occasions these companies have attempted to interfere with policy and legal processes by engaging with decision makers to corrupt tobacco control work or to delay parliamentary debates.

The industry also uses corporate social responsibility tactics, such as offering scholarships to students and donations to poor people, conducting re-forestation activities, sponsoring the Commonwealth Business Forum, and attempting to build a hospital. These are all widely, and positively, reported in the media, although the FCTC considers such activities a form of tobacco industry advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

The leadership and Government of Uganda, need to provide a comprehensive legal framework for effective implementation of the FCTC, including Article 5.3. This must also facilitate the Ministry of Health’s monitoring of the tobacco industry, and build the capacity of other government sectors, such as the Ministry of Trade and Ministry of Finance, to implement tobacco control policies and regulations.

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