On 14 July 2015, the Uganda Tobacco Control Bill (UTCB) was tabled for second reading at the Uganda Parliament. However, the bill was later withdrawn from consideration until further notice, due to the unanticipated length of floor debate on clauses.
Civil society response
On July 22, 2015, public health organisations 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 second-hand 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.
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.
In 2015, the tobacco industry funded a workshop in Gabon and another one in Cote d’Ivoire. The objective of the workshop in Gabon according to the organisers, was to allow tobacco companies to contribute to the development and implementation of effective tobacco control regulations. The objective of the workshop in Cote d’Ivoire was create an institutional framework for exchange of information between parliamentarians, public sector actors and members of parliament on the tobacco issue.
Organised in luxury hotels, both workshops were attended by parliamentarians, senior government officials and tobacco industry representatives. It was evident that the real motive of the tobacco industry for funding these meetings with high-level decision–makers was to influence the drafting and/or implementation of tobacco control policies in both countries.
The involvement of the tobacco industry in the process of development and implementation of tobacco control legislation and policies is contrary to the provisions of Article 5.3 of the FCTC.
The international tobacco control community responded by issuing letters of protests to President Ali Bongo of Gabon and President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast, denouncing the events and explaining to both governments why it is not normal for them to accommodate such offers from and meetings with the tobacco industry. The letters were co-signed by: the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK), the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), the World Lung Foundation (WLF), the Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA) and the Economics of Tobacco Control Project.