26 July 2012

Uganda: Tobacco Industry Shelves Input During Hot Debate On Control Bill

The tobacco industry on Tuesday deferred their contribution to the tobacco control bill claiming they need more time to analyse the it.

An inside source said the tobacco industry represented by BATU and Leaf Tobacco felt the latest version of the draft legislation was served to them on very short notice and therefore they needed time to prepare their input. But MP Kassiano Wadri in the heated meeting on Tuesday reassured the industry at the Kampala Serena Hotel that the bill will be "consultative and not arm chair legislation."

Dr David Kamukama, chairman of the Tobacco Industry Steering Committee called for more time to analyse the bill and respond to specifics. He dismissed what he called misconceptions that the tobacco industry intimate governments to have their way and that tobacco farmers are poor because of tobacco growing.

The debate on cigarette control is one of the most divisive issues of a fast moving consumer product and took on new levels with civil society, medical personnel and the tobacco industry holed in a sharp debate on whether the industry needs to be regulated and how.

The private member's Tobacco Control Bill 2012 moved by Dr Chris Baryomunsi is intended to regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling, promotion, advertising, distribution and use of tobacco products.

Presenting an overview of the bill, Baryomunsi said Uganda is lagging behind in having a law on tobacco control and pushing for the law expected to be enacted at the end of the year is "not an isolated incident in Uganda but is happening everywhere."

Medical experts say 13,000 people die annually from cigarette smoking. They also warn that there is no known benefit from cigarette smoking compared to the consumables.

The tobacco industry also questioned how the new legislation if passed will be aligned to existing local and multilateral legal provisions.

MP David Bahati said the bill is not intended to kill the industry but to minimize the killings from tobacco by regulating the industry. "Have an input because if you don't and it becomes law, it will be enforced," said Bahati.

MP Elijah Okupa also dismissed talk that the industry pays sh80 billion in taxes saying tobacco industry pass this burden to the consumer who have to readjust their disposable income to pay for the cost of smoking.

The draft legislation has strong points on health concerns and the risks related to cigarrete smoking. But general discussions yesterday fell short on how government will implement these strong laws once passed.

"We hope this law does not join other laws that have not been operationalized, the hazardous effects of tobacco on human life is what we all abhor," said Wadri who narrated that proceeds from selling tobacco in Terego, West Nile is what enabled him to get educated.

Wadri said there exist wonderful laws like on drinking, seat belts lying idle on shelves and there is no guarantee that having a new law will change anything with the weak implementing arm of government.

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