Tobacco Control – A Never Ending Fight

By on March 15, 2018

For a very long time now, the battle has raged on between British American Tobacco (BATU) and the good people of the Republic of Uganda. A good number of previous research findings have revealed that the company has not only created several horrible conditions for Ugandans but also led to a great sense of vulnerability of the population. And yet the bottomless wallet of the company ensures that it continues to operate almost unchecked.

Not so long ago, a damning story by the Guardian brought to light the fact that British American Tobacco (BAT) was promoting sales of its cigarettes in many fragile, war-torn and unstable countries in Africa as well as the Middle East. As people lost their lives and struggled to survive, the company concentrated on simply growing its markets.

Back here in Uganda, it has become apparent that the country is taking a few steps forward and several steps back in the Tobacco Control battle. As a matter of fact, Ugadna was recently identified as one of the countries that were regressing in terms of the World Health Organisation laws regarding Tobacco control. Very many schools in areas of Mukono, Kampala and Jinja notoriously had shops selling cigarettes near their institutions. A report by the African Tobacco Alliance highlighted that so many of these Cigarrette companies were advertising cigarettes to minors in the hope to get them hooked while they are still young. Cigarretes were reportedly being sold right next to sweets and other snacks.

In 2017, Parliament amended the excise duty Act No 11 of 2014, imposing different excise tax on cigarettes and alcoholic beverages with lower rates for products produced in UG & higher rates for similar imported products contrary to UG’s commitments at the EAC level. The amendment, introduced differential tax rates for locally manufactured and imported products. For soft cap brands, the Act provided for 55,000 UGX per 1000 sticks for locally manufactured and 75,000 UGX per 1000 sticks for imported brands. For the hinge lid brands, the Act imposed 80,000 UGX per 1000 sticks for locally manufactured and 100,000 UGX for imported brands. This differential taxation is discriminative of imported products and violates the EAC treaty and the attendant Protocols.

In light of this, a ruling in the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) went ahead to bar the Uganda Revenue Authority from imposing tax on BATU’s products from Kenya because of discriminatory rates although this case was pending hearing and determination.

The ruling having been delivered by Principal Judge, Lady Justice Monica Mugenyi, meant that the Tobacco Control battle had been dealt yet another blow in what was turning out to be a very difficult fight.

The Tobacco Control Act (TCA) 2015 sec 23(a) prohibits giving incentives, benefits, privileges, or preferential tax exemptions to the tobacco industry. The Excise Duty Act as amended in 2017 is therefore in contravention of Uganda’s TCA and goes against everything that Uganda as a nation should be fighting for.

Several recommendatiosn were then offered by the Tobacco Control enthusiasts and they included amending the Excise Duty act to provide for equal treatment of both locally and imported goods.

It goes without saying that even as the court cases and legal issues carry on in the courts of law, the average Ugandan continues to suffer from the effects of this Tobacco industry. The risks associated with cigarette smoking can not be over stated and neither can the negative implications on the economy be ignored.

In Uganda, the total health cost of tobacco use including; direct cost of treatment, indirect costs of loss of income, and productivity from death and disability is a whooping UGX 328.82 Billion (USD 126.48). This figure along is enough to send a chill down anyone spine even before we look at other costs that the industry manages to gather along the way.

Tobacco has on several occasions passed the test of being the most toxic legal product which kills its users when used according to prescription. And ths is why everyone should be up in arms against the Tobacco industry. But of course as is usually the case in Ugadna, there will be invisible strings being pulled to make sure the industry continues to prosper.

We shall however continue to make as much noise as we possibly can regarding this unfortunate trend of events.

“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.” ― Brooke Shields

a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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Beewol - The Talkative Rocker