Kampala — Tobacco companies have requested the Parliamentary Committee on Health to review the 500 meter and 100 meter rules in the proposed Tobacco Control Bill 2014 because they indirectly ban smoking in Uganda.
Jonathan D'Souza, the Managing Director British American Tobacco Uganda, says the definition of smoking area in the bill is too wide. It covers areas 'regardless of ownership' and completely disregarding private property rights.
"The law should specifically provide for designated smoking areas (indoors, public places) to cater for the rights of both smokers and non-smokers," D'Souza said, while appearing before the Parliamentary Committee on Health to give the industry's view on the bill.
He was in company of David Kamukama the Managing Director of Leaf Tobacco and Commodities. Clause 11 of the bill prescribes smoking in public places, work places and means of public transport is prohibited and further prohibits smoking within 100 metres of such places.
"The definition of public place is quite broad and covers offices, lounges, guest rooms, lodging, hotels, bars and restaurants," he noted. It further states that these places are included regardless of ownership or right of access.
The 500 meter rule prohibits the sale of tobacco products like cigarettes within 500 meters of the same establishments.
Tobacco smoking is widely blamed to cause lung cancer, especially to passive smokers. A passive smoker is any person who doesn't smoke but takes in smoke from a smoker.
The Bill that was tabled in Parliament in March by Chris Baryomunsi, the MP for Kinkizi East in Kanungu District, aims to regulate the consumption and sale of tobacco products, in an effort to reduce nicotine related health risks in Uganda.
D'souza said: "Contrary to the argument that comprehensive indoor smoking bans are a common trend, in practice very few countries have implemented such bans with those doing so often struggling, or making little effort to enforce them."
Research carried out by a private surveyor company in three Kampala suburbs of Bukoto, Ntinda and Kamwokya, and presented to parliament demonstrated that smokers would have no place within the suburbs which cover a radius of about 6 kilometers.
D'Souza argued that the 100M radius rule in the provision is unreasonable and unenforceable and should also be deleted, as in effect it leads to a ban on smoking in most populated settings.
He said among the offenses, the option of imprisonment, and closure of premises should be removed. It is common for countries to allow designated smoking areas or rooms, or exemptions for certain establishments.
"East African countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, as well as the majority of EU member states allow facilities for smokers at workplaces; restaurants and bars such as designated smoking areas or rooms and in cases have completely exempted bars below a certain size or those choosing to serve only alcohol and no food," he argues.
The prohibition on smoking in any outdoor space within 100m of any public place, workplace, and public transport would effectively amount to an outright ban on smoking in all urban areas. "We have demonstrated this with a map of what this restriction would mean to an average suburb in Kampala," he said.
Contrary to claims made by anti-smoking advocates and policymakers, the quick dispersal of tobacco smoke in outdoor settings means that non-smokers are not involuntarily exposed to levels of tobacco smoke that could constitute a risk to public health.