Tobacco Industry Interference in Gambia
Tobacco Control in Gambia
Tobacco control in Gambia is governed by the following laws:
- The Prohibition of Smoking (Public Places) Act, passed in 1998, which bans smoking in public places, hospitals, public vehicles and government premises, although enforcement is grossly inadequate. Designated smoking areas are allowed in workplaces and at the airports.
- The Tobacco Products (Ban on Advertisement) Act of 2003 which bans tobacco advertising and promotion. However, imported newspapers and magazines and foreigh radio and TV channels still carry tobacco advertising.
- A Directive of the Ministry of Health dated April 2009 which mandates that all tobacco packages carry a prescribed text health warning on 30% of the principal display areas, including information on the constituents of tobacco.
Smuggling of cigarettes is a serious problem in Gambia and a study carried out by RAID The Gambia shows that 38.00% of the cigarettes sold in the country are smuggled. Gambia ratified the FCTC on 18 September 2007.
Tobacco Industry Interference
Tobacco is not cultivated in Gambia and there is no tobacco manufacturing company operating in the country. In other words, tobacco products are imported, mostly by British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris Senegal.
Tobacco industry interference in tobacco control is as common in Gambia as in other African countries.
- The tobacco industry conducts promotional activities despite the ban on tobacco advertisement and promotion, using umbrellas, calendars, cigarette distribution and selling boxes and mass transit vehicles painted with the cigarette brand names.
- In 2014, BAT lodged an official protest to the Ministry of Trade and Ministry of Finance, arguing that under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme, it was illegal for Gambia to impose sales tax on tobacco imports from within the regional block. The executives of the company made several trips to Banjul to meet senior staff members of Gambia Revenue Authority and Ministry of Trade and discuss the issue.
3- In May 2014, BAT issued a press release in favour of e-cigarettes in the leading local newspaper, The Standard. The press release coincided with the commemoration of World No Tobacco Day and portrayed the tobacco industry as being concerned with the impact of tobacco on public health and development. The wording of the press release would easily have misled the less informed into believing that the industry was really concerned about reducing tobacco-related diseases and deaths.
Monitoring the Tobacco Industry in Gambia
In June 2014, RAID The Gambia received technical and financial support from ATCA to conduct a project which had as objective to monitor, counter and expose the interference of the tobacco industry in tobacco control.
During a period of 4 months (July to October 2014), RAID The Gambia undertook a number of initiatives to counter the tobacco industry.
* A Tobacco Industry Monitoring (TIM) team was set up, re-grouping representatives from the Ministries of Health, Trade and Justice, The Gambia Revenue Authority, the public broadcaster, a member of The Health Journalists Association, The National Youth Council, a private Legal Practitioner and the WHO country office.
* Throughout the project period, the team met monthly to discuss achievements, challenges and map out the way forward.
* The capacity of the TIM Team and 20 journalists was built by organizing a training on tobacco industry monitoring and FCTC Article 5.3 implementation. The training was funded and facilitated by ATCA and the Framework Convention Alliance.
* Thereafter, the TIM team and other tobacco control partners met the Ministers of Health, Justice and Interior and their Permanent Secretaries, the Deputy Permanent Secretary responsible for Technical Matters at the Ministry of Health, The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, The Acting Commissioner General of The Gambia Revenue Authority and his senior management team members. The strategies of the tobacco industry were exposed as well as the need for enacting a comprehensive tobacco control law for the country. They highlighted the urgent need to raise tobacco taxes without violating the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme. The TIM Team also advocated for the effective enforcement of all existing tobacco control provisions.
* Meetings were held with the National Assembly's select committee on health, policy champions and influential politicians in the capital city of Banjul and in the largest local government area (Kanifing Municipality), advocating for support to the tobacco control programme and against the tobacco industry.
* The TIM Team organized press briefings, held interviews with journalists and participated in phone-in and recorded programmes in the public, community and commercial radio stations with a view to exposing and countering the tactics being used by the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control efforts in Gambia.
* The availability and prices of different tobacco products were monitored monthly through visits to wholesale and retail outlets including the street vendors in different parts of the country.
a. A functional TIM Team in Gambia allowed maintaining an appreciable degree of alertness among stakeholders on the activities of the tobacco industry and responding in a timely manner.
b. Members of the public, decision-makers and the media became more aware of the tactics being used by the tobacco industry to derail the tobacco control process in Gambia.
c. Media monitoring was established to assess the level of coverage which is being given to the tobacco industry and public health issues, including tobacco control.
d. The initiatives undertaken by RAID The Gambia in partnership with the Ministry of Health in the context of this campaign against the tobacco industry allowed the creation of a more supportive environment for the advancement of tobacco control in Gambia.
Much still remains to be done in Gambia to stop the interference of the tobacco industry in the policy formulation and implementation process. A Code of Conduct based on Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC should be adopted to regulate public officials and minimize tobacco industry interference within government. Tobacco smuggling into the country should be closely monitored to situate the role of the tobacco industry in this illicit activity. Journalists and parliamentarians, who are still not fully aware of the WHO FCTC and the activities of the tobacco industry, should be trained to increase media coverage and support.