By Chimp Investigations Team
Leaf Tobacco Commodities (LTC) and several other cigarette manufacturers in Uganda have stubbornly refused to apply health warning graphics on their cigarette packets, undermining efforts to sensitise the public on the dangers of smoking such as lung cancer and addiction.
According to the Tobacco Control Regulations, 2019, a cigarette package is required to have a picture portion of a health warning comprising 80 percent of the space while 20 percent is occupied by the text portion.
The law also requires a unit package of tobacco products on the Uganda market to have the health warnings messages both at the front and at the back of the pack.
The rationale for introduction of the graphic health warnings was to reduce the demand for tobacco consumption and that the color images would promote greater public understanding of the negative health consequences of smoking.
However, it has emerged that despite the law being enacted in 2020, Leaf Tobacco Commodities owned by billionaire Tribert Rujugiro and several others are yet to comply with the law.
An official at LTC in Namanve said he would not be able to comment when contacted by ChimpReports on Tuesday.
LTC are manufacturers of Supermatch, Master and Peterfield 20’s cigarette brands.
Other defiant cigarette manufacturers are Oris, Business Royals, Rally and Monte Carlo.
By refusing to apply the distinct and clear messages about the risks associated with cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, TLC and other companies are exposing the public to dangers of unregulated tobacco consumption such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases and diabetes.
Contacted, Dr Hafsa Lukwata, the Tobacco Control Focal Person at the Health Ministry, said it was agreed in 2020 after the law was passed that “all players in the industry comply with the regulations.”
She also disclosed that Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) which is in charge of enforcement “did not have the standard to fit our regulations.”
Lukwata further said Health Ministry, UNBS, Trade Ministry and Uganda Revenue Authority need to come together to enforce compliance with Tobacco control laws.
Lukwata said the Health Ministry asked the Ministry of Trade to provide a list of cigarette manufacturers but were yet to receive any.
“We (Health Ministry) do not know who these players are. The Ministry of Trade is not informing us on the players so that we give them regulations.”
However, Lukwata assured that government would soon start taking stronger action to enforce compliance.
“We were busy during the COVID-19 pandemic. But now that the situation is better and by May 2021, we should have implemented these laws.”
Lukwata said British American Tobacco, which manufactures Dunhill, was already complying with the laws including applying healthy messages on the cigarette packets.
UNBS public relations officer Sylvia Kirabo was still unreachable when we posted this story.
Nevertheless, an investigation by ChimpReports has revealed that on March 3, 2021, Uganda Law Society (ULS) wrote to Health Minister Dr Ruth Aceng over the “outrageous consistent breach” of the Tobacco Control laws, by the tobacco industry majorly manifested in presence of Shisha in public places, “presence of tobacco products on the market that do not bear the graphic health warnings” and sale of tobacco products in unit packs that do not comply with the regulation that requires “unit packages to contain 20 sticks of cigarettes.”
ULS President Pheona Wall said “not only does this undermine the efforts of this country’s legislation in protecting the public against the adverse health effects of tobacco products, but also the arbitrary disregard of the act and the regulations which pose a direct threat to the public perception of the importance of the observance of rule of law which ULS continually strives to uphold.”
The survey results published in The Health Cost of Tobacco Use in Uganda- Report revealed that the annual average medical cost of a current or former smoker suffering from a tobacco-attributable disease is $1,422 which is more than double the annual average medical cost of a non-smoker, that is at $622.
According to the report, the direct cost of treating tobacco-attributable illnesses in Uganda is estimated to be $41.56 Million.
Also, the total health cost of tobacco use in Uganda stood at 126.48 million. Besides, according to the report, the total health cost outweighs the market value; $ 81.22 million of tobacco products or the assumed benefits of tobacco use in Uganda.
According to WHO’s Tobacco Epidemic Report of 2019, Cigarettes had started becoming less affordable between 2008 and 2018 in Uganda.
Other gains in tobacco control in the country included a ban on direct Advertising, Promotion and Sponsorship, enforcement of Smoke- Free Environments and an increase in tobacco taxation by 39.9%.
However, failure to enforce the law could erode these critical gains in the war on tobacco consumption.
ULS President Pheona Wall said the continued breach of the laws is aided by a “lack of enforcement of these laws against the tobacco industry which is a great risk to public health ad he rule of law in our country.”
Court records show that the application of the judicial review of the regulations was withdraw by British American Tobacco (BAT), meaning the law is currently in force with no legal obstacle to enforcement.
Wall asked Aceng to issue a directive to the tobacco industry to comply with the applicable tobacco laws and regulations.
“The directive should be clear on the consequences of failure to comply within the stipulated time,” said Wall.
ULS advised that legal proceedings should be instituted against non-compliant industry players.
Wall said ULS was willing to render legal support to the Ministry to prosecute them.
“Non enforcement of the law sets a bad precedent and is a great risk to the rule of law and to public health especially with the added threat of COVID-19 since it gives the public the impression that breach of law without any consequences is possible,” she observed.
Regulation of the tobacco industry has evolved over the years dating back to the Tobacco (Control and Marketing) Act of 1967 which regulates the production and marketing of tobacco in Uganda.
In 2002, the Uganda National Bureau of Standards passed the Uganda Standard 313:2002; Cigarettes Specification that required a single text warning on packets of cigarettes (these have since been replaced by graphic health warnings).
The National Environment (Control of Smoking in Public Places) Regulations were introduced in 2004 which prohibited smoking in public places and provided for designated smoking areas.
Uganda executed and ratified the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) on 5th March 2004 and 20 June 2007 respectively, which seeks to regulate tobacco consumption through reduction of demand for and control of supply of tobacco products.
The FCTC places an obligation on the Parties to implement national tobacco control strategies and plans in accordance with the Convention. To that end, Uganda enacted the Tobacco Control Act of 2015.
ChimpReports understands activists now want the Health Ministry to publish a mass media communication to the public about the illegality of these products by non-compliant companies such as Leaf Tobacco Commodities (TLC) and the consequences for failure to adhere with the law.
They also want a collaboration between Ministry of Health and Uganda Revenue Authority to cease supply of Digital Tax Stamps to non-compliant industry players and prosecution of non-compliant tobacco industry players such as TLC in accordance with the tobacco control laws.