Tobacco Industry Interference in Uganda
Tobacco Control in Uganda
Uganda adopted a comprehensive FCTC-compliant tobacco control law in 2015. Prior to its adoption, tobacco control was governed by The National Environment (Control of Smoking in Public Places) Regulations 2014 which banned smoking in places like health care facilities, educational institutions, government facilities, public transport, cinemas, offices, sport stadia and factories. However, designated smoking areas were allowed in bars, restaurants and discotheques.
The process of developement of the 2015 tobacco control law started after the ratification by Uganda of the WHO FCTC on 20th June, 2007. In 2007, awareness-raising activities on the FCTC were conducted among stakeholders including government departments and civil society. A draft legislation was then developed under the leadership of the Ministry of Health with the support of African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA), Civil society like Uganda National Tobacco Control Association (UNTCA) and other partners. This was followed by a public hearing on 24th July 2012 when the draft zero of the tobacco control bill was introduced to the general public. Since then, the tobacco industry worked tirelessly to weaken the law through tactics focused on negating the need for a tobacco control law in Uganda.
Tobacco Industry Interference
Two tobacco manufacturing companies operate in Uganda, the British American Tobacco (BAT) with a market share of 90% in 2011 and the Leaf Tobacco and Commodities (LTC) which controls 10% of the market. Uganda also has a number of tobacco leaf companies, the main one being British American Tobacco-Uganda (BATU) which had a market share of 80-90% in 2011. Tobacco products manufactured in Uganda are for local consumption only. It is reported that tobacco is the second largest cash crop grown in over 16 districts, with a total planting area of 7.550sq km (about 13% of total land mass) devoted to its cultivation. The tobacco industry tactics to market its products in Uganda and counter the initiatives of tobacco control advocates include the following:
- Publication of articles in the media exaggerating the economic importance of the tobacco industry and its support to tobacco farmers. For example, on 12 September 2013, BATU published an advertisement in the newspaper « Daily Monitor » claiming to have paid Shs 16 billion to the 4,700 tobacco farmers of West Nile alone when these farmers are known to live in poverty and a state of indebtedness.
- The industry uses intimidation tactics towards policy makers, examplified by BAT writing to a member of Parliament on 19 March 2014 informing him of the impossibility to commit itself in renewing the contracts of farmers for the purchase of tobacco leaves due to the imposition of a tax on tobacco leaf export and the likely adoption of a new tobacco control law.
- Instead of accepting the new law based on the principles and guidelines of the FCTC, the tobacco industry proposed the introduction of voluntary regulation.
- It seeks the goodwill of prominent public figures by appointing them as tobacco company board members or consultants.
- Another feature of the tobacco industry's tactics in Uganda is the use of front groups to defend its interests.
- BATU claims to have initiated a number of Corporate Social Responsibility programmes such as BAT scholarship scheme, health and education programmes, infrastructure rehabilitation and construction. However, the programmes have not altered the conditions of the farmers, who remain mired in poverty and alcoholism and unable to offer to their offspring the right to a better life.
- The company continues to sponsor highly visible events; for example,
- it sponsored the Commonwealth Business Forum in 2007;
- it donated 2 million shillings for the royal wedding of the King of Bunyoro (a key tobacco growing region with nearly 50% of BATU’s contracted farmers); and
- it donated 2000 jerricans to the displaced people in Katakwi.
Monitoring the Tobacco Industry in Uganda
When the TIM project started, Uganda was in the process of adopting a national legislation to domesticate the FCTC. The Uganda Tobacco Control Bill 2014 was before the Health Committee of the Ugandan parliament. The Uganda National Tobacco Control Association (UNTCA) was ATCA’s partner in the TIM project and aimed at preventing the tobacco industry from interfering in the process of adoption of the bill. The project also involved developing a Code of Conduct Article 5.3 of the FCTC to be observed by all public officers.
UNTCA used multiple strategies to counter the initiatives of the tobacco industry.
* It refuted the claims of the tobacco industry with regards to its economic contribution to the economy of Uganda by releasing counter publications and press releases which helped the public and decision-makers to understand the fallacy of its arguments.
* UNTCA participated in several radio talk shows around the country to explain especially to tobacco farmers from the Kihihi county that the tobacco control bill did not seek to stop tobacco growing or increase taxes on the tobacco leaf.
* A courtesy visit was made to the Ministry of Finance which was sensitized on the spirit and content of the bill and most importantly on the fact that the bill, once adopted, would not represent a burden on the consolidated fund of the government of Uganda.
* The sensitization meeting culminated in the issuance of a Certificate of Financial Implications eight days later. It is important to note that in Uganda, before a bill is presented in Parliament, it must be issued a Certificate of Financial Implications by the Ministry of Finance which basically assesses how much of the consolidated funds of the country will be spent in the implementation of that law after its adoption. However, it is a rule that a private member’s bill, like the one on tobacco control, should have no financial implications. In the case of the tobacco control bill, the Ministry of Health was committed to providing the required resources for its implementation from within the health sector budget. The issuance of the certificate paved the way for the bill to receive its first reading in Parliament on 6th March 2014. The tobacco industry lobbied with the Ministry of Finance to slow the issuance of the certificate with allegations that the tobacco control bill had financial implications.
* UNTCA also empowered prominent public figures as champions for the tobacco control bill. These included policy makers, famous comedians, radio presenters, known medical practitioners and musicians who, in turn, used their respective platforms to support the adoption of the tobacco control bill.
* Other front groups such as the Uganda Cancer Institute, Uganda Heart Institute, and Uganda Academy of Science were also trained and sensitized, leading to the presentation of position papers to policy makers on the health effects and health cost of tobacco related diseases.
- A comprehensive TC bill was tabled in Parliament.
- A certificate was issued by the Ministry of Finance that the tobacco control bill will have no financial implications on the consolidated fund of the government, thus allowing its first reading in Parliament.
- A TIM Team was established to serve as a watchdog of the activities of the tobacco industry in Uganda.
- The project led to the creation of greater synergy among the various sectors concerned with tobacco control in Uganda, including CSOs, parliamentarians, CTCA and government officials.
There is strong evidence of the interference of the tobacco industry in tobacco control in Uganda. By all means, the industry attempted to dilute the tobacco control bill and delay its passage in parliament. Coordinated efforts from all sectors concerned with tobacco control were instrumental in exposing and countering the tobacco industry and influence decision-makers to move for its adoption. Civil society in Uganda, as in other African countries, played a key role in mobilizing support for the bill, paving the way for its first reading in Parliament and its subsequent adoption.