Lack of tobacco law enforcement attracts more consumers

Lack of tobacco law enforcement attracts more consumers

The Gambia is one of the highly consumed tobacco countries with a fragile market that attracts different age groups including females and underage who are exposed to the products due to the lack of proper law enforcement.

The products mostly used in The Gambia include cigarettes, tobacco pipes, shisha, and snuff. Despite the government’s tax increment on tobacco products to reduce its circulation, a high quantity is being imported into the country and a huge number of our population consumes it daily.

Although every person has the right to smoke tobacco according to the 2016 Act, consumers are not allowed to expose others to tobacco smoke. The Tobacco Control Act 2016 also prohibited a person from smoking in any public place and within 100 meters of a public place.

However, these regulatory laws are no more being enforced by our authorities, thus contributing to exposure and the use of tobacco by a huge number of the public, including children who easily get access to the products through our corner shops.

Despite the Act prohibiting vendors from selling tobacco to children, displaying the product or advertising it, some do not comply while others are ignorant of the law due to lack of engagement.

The last NCD risk factor survey called the STEPS SURVEY which was conducted in 2010, indicated that the use of tobacco in the age group 25-65 stands at 16.7% and higher in the male group, which stands at 31%. The 2017 Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted in age groups 13-15 years (grades 7-9), indicated that the prevalence of tobacco use among this age group stands at 10.6%.

Speaking to a former tobacco consumer, Mamour M.Mbenga alias Kifa Barham, who is the brand ambassador of the Drug Law Enforcement Agency and the executive director of Africa Drug-Free Foundation, admitted that tobacco causes brain damage, cancer, destroys teeth, causes eye problems and mouth cancer.

He added that young people at the age of 12 also have access to tobacco and shisha. Having experienced shisha, Kifa said it causes headaches and dizziness.

“The government should enforce the laws, although they are making revenue out of it.  We should try to stop the importation of cigarettes or reduce the quantity imported into the country because it’s hazardous,” he said.

He further reiterated that parents have a responsibility to control their children, saying peer influence has contributed to the problem.

Ousainatou Dampha, explained that she started smoking at age 17, while describing stress as what pushed her into smoking.

“I started smoking Piccadilly before moving to Amfora. I used to smoke continuously because I was told smoking reduces weight. I influenced my friend who also started smoking at a young age,” she confessed.

Mrs Dampha added that she also uses Shisha whenever she is out for a party with friends, adding she doesn’t feel comfortable without smoking.

“I can sacrifice to buy cigarettes than breakfast,” she revealed, adding she is used to smoking but does not smoke in public.

Seyfo Singhateh, a senior programme officer at the Non-Communicable Diseases Unit under the Ministry of Health, explained that from anecdotal evidence, there is an increase in the use of different tobacco products that are new innovations of the tobacco industry. He added that shisha, vapes and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are gaining momentum in the country, saying the use of shisha among school-going children in 2018 in the greater Banjul area was 8%.

“Tobacco use kills more than 7 million people annually and 1.3 million out of this are as a result of exposure to tobacco smoke (secondhand smoke). Tobacco is known scientifically to contain more than 400 chemicals and 70 of these are known to cause cancer (carcinogens). The accumulation of these chemicals in the human body leads to damage of tissues and organs, eventually causing conditions that lead to the death,” he said.

Mr. Singhateh suggested that the government should formulate policies, laws and regulations on the sale and use of tobacco products. “The enforcement of the law is a collective responsibility of everyone to ensure that the provisions of the Act are upheld by tobacco users,” he added.

Omar Conteh, advocacy and communications officer for the African Network for Information and Actions against Drugs (RAID-The Gambia), said that the prevalence of tobacco use in the country is still very high despite the enactment of the Tobacco Control Act 2016.

Since tobacco is a legal product, he explained that there is no country that has banned the usage or importation of tobacco products, saying laws are made to control the demand and supply.

“RAID-The Gambia supported the enactment and the popularization of the act and the enforcement has started. That is the mandate of the public health officers, the environmentalists, and the police. To cope with the usage of the product, the act says no one can sell cigarettes on a single stick. Businesses can only sell 20 sticks and above,” he explained.

Conteh highlighted that tobacco doesn’t only kill but causes impotence, mischarge, lung cancer, heart attack, diabetes, and pain and sudden deaths.

Dwelling on the plans to help minimize the use of the product, he said, there should be behavioural change communication. In addition, everybody should be an ambassador to fight the deadly product.

The police were contacted for comment on the enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act 2016 but efforts proved futile.

Source: The Point