Tobacco kills. BATU, Uganda’s largest tobacco company, accepts the verdict but, nevertheless, opposes attempts by MPs on the Forum on Non-communicable Diseases to completely phase out tobacco use.
The Tobacco Control Bill 2014, under consideration by Committee on Health, seeks to control tobacco use and protect second-hand smokers. And it should be supported.
However, this issue is complex. Industry backers, led by BATU, argue that the tobacco industry employs over 60,000 farmers, would hurt the economy, and generates Shs80b in taxes to government. Hundreds of tobacco farmers in Kanungu reaped Shs2.7b from the crop in 2013-2014 growing season.
We need a tobacco-free Uganda, but we also need to provide a viable alternative for tobacco farmers to ease the transition from tobacco to other equally profitable crops such as coffee, corn and beans.
The tobacco debate is complex and has both economic benefits and health hazards. But as the MPs have cited, it would be illogical and irresponsible to relish smokers’ right to self-destruction.
World Bank figures indicate the costs incurred on treating tobacco-related illnesses outstrip the gains in taxes and earnings from the crop. The figures show for every Shs2,500 earned from tobacco, the government loses Shs7,500 in treating tobacco-related maladies. Moreover, figures from the Centre for Tobacco Control Africa puts the death toll from tobacco abuse at 39 for every 100,000 deaths in East Africa.
Smoking is rapidly burning up the lungs of our youth. Figures on tobacco abuse between 2001 and 2011 from the Uganda Bureau of Standards indicate the practice has risen rapidly from 11 to 15 per cent among girls of 11 to 15 years between 2001 and 2011. The increase is even higher among boys, rising from 12 to 19 per cent.
According to health experts, tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 different chemical compounds, more than 50 of which are known to cause cancer. Second-hand smokers risk exposure to highly poisonous gases and chemicals.
It is in the interest of Ugandans for the lawmakers and the tobacco industry to have an honest debate on this Bill. No doubt, we need a healthy and clean environment. The 1995 Constitution guarantees Ugandans the right to health, a clean environment, and life. Ultimately, tobacco use must be controlled.
Let’s push for enactment of the Tobacco Control Bill 2014.