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.