Effects of smoking
Seeing people smoking in a music video or a movie is a common scene not only in Uganda but globally. These scenes make smoking look fancy and this has far reaching consequences on the people especially the youth who look at musicians and movie stars as role models.
Health activists involved in tobacco control are concerned by this trend and want an end to it.
Andrew Kwizera, the Technical Resource Person in charge of the East African region for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids- a global Organisation on Tobacco Control says that many celebrities show scenes of smoking in music videos and films yet many are seen as role models to the youth. “Many young people who follow these stars have adopted smoking. This is setting a bad image to these innocent young people”, Kwizera observes adding that as a result of smoking, young people have been exposed to various tobacco related diseases which are hard and expensive to treat.
Statistics from the World Health Organization reveal that the average age of debutant smokers is 12-14 years globally.
According to Richard Baguma Tinkasimire, the coordinator Uganda Health Communication Alliance- one of the organizations at the forefront of tobacco control campaign in Uganda, young people are easily lured into smoking mainly by peer pressure and copying those they look at as role models. “Parents, leaders and celebrities must set a good example to the young generation and make children pick the best practices from them. Acts like smoking or tobacco consumption in any form should be discouraged”, he explains.
As part of the efforts to promote a smoking free generation, health activists in Uganda have adopted the use of musicians and other celebrities in the tobacco control campaigns.
Sophie Gombya- a household name in Uganda’s music industry is one of the Tobacco control ambassadors. “It’s true we have a big following, we have power to influence behavior directly or indirectly. As musicians and celebrities must be aware that what we do and show impacts on our followers.
We must therefore be mindful not to encourage bad habits like smoking among the people especially the youth who follow and adore us”, the vibrant Gombya explains.
Apart from Gombya, the Tobacco control fraternity has also used people like the Uganda National Netball Team- the ‘She Cranes’ to rally people against Tobacco- a move that Baguma says is paying off.
The Legal Framework
Uganda is a signatory of to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Article 13 (4a) prohibits all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship that promote tobacco product by any means that are false, misleading, or deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics, health effects, hazards or emissions.
Uganda’s Tobacco Control Act of 2015 also bans promotion and advertising of tobacco products, open display of tobacco products and selling of tobacco products to minors among others.
Whether showing of smoking scenes in movies and music videos is deliberate to lure people into this act, it is a clear breach of the law and the reality is- it ought to stop.
According to Kokulinda Lutgard, the head of Tanzania Tobacco Control Alliance, musicians and other celebrities have a huge impact on their following and can play a great role in Tobacco control but also everyone has a character to play in this campaign.
The Global Tobacco Burden
According to health experts, Tobacco use is one of the main risk factors for a number of chronic diseases, including cancer, lung diseases, and cardiovascular diseases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics show that Tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year worldwide with more than 6 million of those deaths as a result of direct tobacco use while around 890 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
The most worrying fact is that nearly 80 percent of the world’s more than 1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest and alarming.
Over the years, significant strides have been made in Tobacco Control but this is more in developed countries than in the developing world.
A 2017 report by WHO on “Monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies” reveal that more countries have implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic pack warnings and advertising bans to no smoking areas. About 4.7 billion people – 63 percent of the world’s population are covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure, which has quadrupled since 2007 when only 1 billion people and 15 percent of the world’s population were covered.
Uganda has an estimated 1.3 Million smokers- according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) report of 2013 with each smoker spending an average of 20, 730 Shillings (about 6 USD) on manufactured cigarettes per month.
Uganda Urged to tighten laws on Tobacco consumption
A couple of years ago, Uganda’s Parliament enacted the anti-tobacco consumption legislation. This law bares public smoking and tobacco advertising and puts in place fines for offenders.
At the time of its enactment, this was seen as a step forward towards reducing deaths as a result of tobacco consumption.
However, since then nothing has much changed and health activists are up again demanding for tough measures against tobacco use and production.
Baguma Richard Tinkasimire, the programs coordinator at the Uganda health communication alliance says that this legislation puts light punishments and fines on perpetrators and its implementation is poor. According to Baguma, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship has persisted and this is dangerous.
“Tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship encourage people especially the youth to use tobacco, encourage tobacco users to use more, decrease user’s motivation to quit and quitters to relapse,” he sadly adds
Loopholes in the law
Baguma explains that the current law has many loopholes. “Under the current law, every public place must have a no smoking sign but many of our hotels, bars, offices and night spots do not have them.
What is more baffling is that you find ‘smoking zones’ and ash trays in these places and this is unlawful,” Baguma notes. He further reveals that as a result of these loop holes in the current law, public smoking and public tobacco consumption has persisted and this is a great health risk to both the consumer and the people around.
As a result of this trend, health activists have now drafted a private members bill that is before the floor of parliament. Baguma told this mouth piece that this bill (Tobacco control bill 2012) seeks to tighten the grip on tobacco production, advertising and consumption.
The bill at a glance
According to Doctor Hafsa Lukwata, a mental health specialist and one of the brains behind this law in the offing, the act seeks to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.
According to the world health organization (WHO), tobacco is the single greatest preventable cause of death in the world today, killing up to a half of the people who use it.
The world health body estimates that tobacco use causes nearly 6 million preventable deaths each year of which 10 percent are due to exposure to second hand tobacco smoke. “If current trends continue, the number of annual tobacco-related deaths is predicted to increase to 10 million by the year 2020 with 70 percent of those deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries”, the WHO 2011 report warns.
This bill seeks to promote a smoke free environment, place a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, restrict the sale, supply and use of tobacco products and to place tough fines and punishment on perpetrators.
Part IV of this bill advocates for an increment in taxes on tobacco products in an effort to control their trade. “The object of this part is to provide for price increase through taxation on tobacco products as an effective intervention in reducing demand for tobacco”, clause IV of the bill reads in part.
According to Baguma, there is a strong need to protect the vulnerable people who consume second hand smoke from cigarettes and tobacco. “We must put strong laws in place and implement them because health related problems related to tobacco use when they come, they are irreversible,” he added.
Shocking but true, Baguma does not buy the idea of designating smoking zones in public places like bars and clubs. “Designating smoking zones in public places is hopeless. Smoke from that area will eventually come to the non-smoking areas and affect others. Instead if one wants to smoke, let them go out of the public place and smoke from there.
In Uganda, tobacco growing has for generations been the main source of income for thousands in west Nile region and other areas like Kanungu. However Baguma observes that people in these areas can be helped to get an alternative crop to grow and earn big. He cites Bwambala Sub County in Rukungiri district western Uganda which used to be a tobacco production hub but people have now abandoned the crop in favor of upland rice.
Baguma notes that if people in Tobacco growing areas are well sensitized and given alternative crops to grow, they will definitely abandon tobacco growing.