Tobacco industry interference in tobacco control in Uganda
On 14 July 2015, the Uganda Tobacco Control Bill (UTCB) was tabled for second reading at the Uganda Parliament. However, shortly after the bill was withdrawn from consideration until further notice, due to the unanticipated length of floor debate on clauses.
On July 22, 2015, public health organizations committed to tobacco control, concerned with the turn of events and aware that the tobacco industry was engaged in intense lobbying at the highest levels of Government, wrote to the Speaker of Parliament of Uganda, expressing their apprehension that the withdrawal of the bill from consideration would only serve the interests of those opposed to its passage, chiefly, the multi‐national tobacco companies. In their common letter, these organizations highlighted the following facts:
- The bill submitted to Parliament for consideration contained strong, evidence‐based provisions that would protect the people of Uganda, particularly youth, from the devastating health harms caused by addiction to tobacco and exposure to secondhand smoke.
- It is a common strategy deployed by the tobacco industry around the world to work for delaying the enactment of strong tobacco control legislation. On the African continent, British American Tobacco has delayed implementation of strong tobacco control regulations in Kenya by falsely claiming that the government did not incorporate public participation in the rule‐making process. Tobacco industry interference after the passage of comprehensive tobacco control legislation in Nigeria in 2011 resulted in the legislation failing to secure the assent of the President, which, in turn, forced those eager to achieve strong tobacco control legislation to begin all over again with the drafting and registering of a new bill. This second bill was eventually enacted in 2015, five years after the first bill was filed for presidential signature. Elsewhere in the world, the industry has worked tirelessly to delay the enactment or implementation strong tobacco control laws in Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Pakistan, Philippines, and Ukraine, to name only a few low‐ and middle income countries. These delays do not serve public health; rather, they prolong the ability of the tobacco industry to remain unregulated so that it can continue to attract new addicts and reap enormous profits from the sale of its deadly products.
- The tobacco industry cannot be considered legitimate stakeholder in policymaking. Its aim is to prevent effective tobacco control measures. There are fundamental and irreconcilable differences between those working to combat the tobacco epidemic and those who promote use of a lethal product that generates billions of dollars of profits annually for the tobacco industry. The Preamble to the WHO FCTC recognizes that Parties “need to be alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts”4 and FCTC Article 5.3 and its Guidelines prohibit the inclusion of the tobacco industry in tobacco control policy-making. As a Party to the FCTC, the Government of Uganda should reject any attempts by the tobacco industry or its allies to insert tobacco industry concerns into discussions concerning Tobacco Control Bill 2014.
- The current bill reflected an open, consultative process to hear from all stakeholders during public hearings, applauding the work of the Health Committee, who after hearing all stakeholders’ views had recommended a set of measures that reflected international best practices supported by a wealth of scientific data.
- Delay would also open legislation up to the possibility that those acting on behalf of tobacco industry interests would weaken the bill. This is precisely what occurred when strong tobacco control measures were proposed for the European Union in 2009 – a weaker directive passed in 2014 – as well as in countries such as Togo, Jamaica, and Sri Lanka.
- The delay in advancing the legislation ill served those who had worked so hard and selflessly for the benefit of all Ugandans and carried with it a real risk. Should Parliament fail to complete the second and third readings of the bill and pass the bill into law without delay, it was feared that the national election campaigns that was already underway would interfere with the current Parliament’s ability to act in accordance with the desire of the citizens of Uganda that a strong tobacco control law be enacted.
Outcome: Despite all the setbacks and the intense interference of the tobacco industry, the Uganda Tobacco Control Bill was passed on 28 July 2015. The new legislation introduced a range of tobacco control measures, which included increasing the age of legal purchase of cigarettes to 21 years of age, the introduction of graphic health warnings to cover 65% of cigarette packaging and a requirement that indoor public places and workplaces are 100% smoke-free. On 19 September 2015, Uganda President Museveni assented the bill which became the Uganda Tobacco Control Act 2015. The regulations come into force six months after publication in the gazette.