Arua MP calls for revision of disputed tobacco Bill

Tobacco farmer from Hoima District shows off his harvests. There is ongoing debate on how to regulate the use of tobacco products in Uganda. COURTESY Photo

What you need to know:

Earnings. Last year, the crop brought in Shs191 billion in foreign exchange.

The debate on tobacco consumption and sale in Uganda has taken another twist as the MP for Vurra County in Arua, Dr Sam Okuonzi, called for the amendment of the Tobacco Control Bill (TCB) to allow Uganda continue reaping from the crop.
“Tobacco is a health hazard but it is also an economic crop. We need to balance the economy with health to make sure that we get the best out of the two worlds. Tobacco has a big market not just in Uganda but even abroad. There are at least a billion people in the world who are looking and hungering for tobacco,” Mr Okuonzi said while attending the Parliamentary Committee on Health last week.

According to the WHO, more than one billion people worldwide will still use tobacco products by 2050, while an estimated 800,000 Ugandan adults currently use it.

“So, if we have such a large market already and it’s only about 5 per cent of the tobacco grown here that is consumed here and tobacco is one of our major exports, I would want us to modify this bill. Instead of looking as if it’s going to ban tobacco, it should look as if we are controlling the use of tobacco,” Mr Okuonzi added.

In 2013, the tobacco industry earned Uganda $75 million (Shs191 billion) in foreign exchange as export revenue covering both exports of packed leaf and cigarettes, according to statistics shared by Mr Jonathan D’Suoza, the managing director British American Tobacco Uganda, at the hearing.

Farmers to lose out
Last month, British American Tobacco Uganda suspended its operations in Kanungu affecting about 709 tobacco farmers and families who depend on the crop for their livelihood. In 2013, the company paid slightly over Shs2.8 billion to the farmers for their crop.