Tobacco Companies target Africa
Friday, June 12, 2009.
By Basiru Adam
Following increased pressure from Europeans countries, Tobacco companies are said to have found Africa a safe haven where control measures are loose in many countries. Countries like Nigeria and Senegal are hosting large manufacturing plants from where the whole sub-region is served the harmful drug. Organizations in the fight against tobacco use are thus worried that if African governments do not act on the matter, the consequences could be dire for the continent. Particularly worrying is the allure tobacco holds for the youthful population. The truth of the matter is that governments make loads of money from the tobacco industry. It is as such difficulty to convince any such government to sever ties with the industry. But a counter argument from anti-tobacco activists is that the complicated health conditions that result from tobacco use and the attendant medical expenses cost a nation much more money. Finding that calling for a total ban on tobacco manufacture would be an uphill task; activists say control measures need to be strengthened. A global demand on manufacturers is the need for picture warnings on the product to help smokers who cannot read to know the dangers involved. Incidentally, this year’s World No Tobacco Day was celebrated on the theme “Tobacco Health Warnings.”
“The general consensus globally is for the use of warnings which are the fusion of texts and pictures. Research has shown that tobacco health warnings which incorporate pictures are more effective in conveying the message of the harm wreaked by tobacco,” says the CEO of the Ghana’s Food and Drugs Board (FDB), Dr. Stephen Opuni. According to Ms. Sophia Twum-Barima of the WHO office in Ghana, “It is the smoker’s right to know what he is smoking.” She laments that “currently, the warning is so small that you cannot even see it. It is not explicit enough. We want a definite warnings; one that says tobacco kills.”
Indeed, Dr. Stephen Opuni says Tobacco companies have been given August 1st 2009 as a deadline to discontinue the importation of cigarette packs without the approved health warnings. By a similar token, the companies have been given the December 31 as deadline to mop up old cigar packs already on the market without the health warnings. African governments are also being encouraged to charge higher taxes on the product so that it would be sold at a much higher price to the consumer as a way of discouraging its use. Ms. Sophia Twum-Barima says that “currently, tobacco is so cheap that even children can buy it.”The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which was negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization is the fulcrum around which the global fight against tobacco use is being waged and 164 countries including Ghana was among the first forty countries which supported the entry into force of the FCTC. As African governments are also being encouraged to charge higher taxes on the product so that it would be sold at a much higher price to the consumer as a way of discouraging its use. Ms. Sophia Twum-Barima says that “currently, tobacco is so cheap that even children can buy it.”The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [FCTC] which was negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization is the fulcrum around which the global fight against tobacco use is being waged and 164 countries including Ghana was among the first forty countries which supported the entry into force of the FCTC. As an objective, the convention seeks to “protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption.”Article 4 of the convention demands that “every person should informed of the health consequences, addictive nature, and mortal threat posed by tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke, and effective legislative, executive, administration or other measures should be contemplated at the appropriate governmental level to protect all persons from exposure to tobacco smoke.” Ghana responded by putting together a committee in 2002 to draft a Tobacco Control Bill. The passage of the bill is what has remained an issue over the last couple of years in the country. Civil society organizations have been particularly up and doing calling on government to ensure speedy passage of a strong law to regulate the industry, vis-a-vise the country. Civil society particularly is keen on seeing a ban on smoking on public.
Vision for Alternative Development [VALD] is on such NGO which has been working over the years in ensuring good health for both smokers and affected non smokers. VALD held a national stakeholders meeting on tobacco Control Bill this week aimed at scrutinizing the bill and making inputs where necessary. With the help of Mrs. Pearl Akiwumi-Siriboe, a Pincipal State Attorney, several aspects of the bill were scrutinized and recommendations where necessary were made. In the end, a communiqué was adopted, which called on government to as matter of urgency ensure the passage of a strong law in the country. According to the Executive Director of VALD Issah Ali, “Ghana is considered a role model in Africa and a leader in tobacco control and good governance. Good governance ensures that the vulnerable such as children, youth, pregnant women and consumers are fully respected of their social background.” He believes therefore that Ghana should do all it can to maintain its enviable position on the continent.