Bots stance on tobacco applauded


Gaborone – Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA) has commended Botswana for signing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s (FCTC) Anti-illicit Trade Protocol early this month.

The signing of the protocol, however, pits the Southern African country against the tobacco industry.

The war between Botswana health authorities and tobacco industry is over the control of the local market by the latter and the former’s intention to curb the use of tobacco due to its negative effects on public health.

Botswana officially signed the Protocol on October 1, through its Ministry of Health ‑ making it the second country in Southern Africa to do so, after South Africa, which signed in January 2013.

The Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Shenaaz El-Halabi, recently revealed that despite government efforts to curb illicit trade in cigarettes in the country, the tobacco industry has become the biggest challenge, where every street now sells cigarettes and other deadly products through their support and encouragement.

She says the country is currently facing a major challenge of cigarette supplies by both legal and illegal tobacco manufactures looking to increase their sales, profits and market share, adding that corruption is facilitating the presence of criminal networks, which currently take advantage of the country’s weak enforcement capacity.

Apart from signing the protocol, Botswana intends to counter the challenges posed by the tobacco industry by repealing the Control of Smoking Act (1992) to replace it with comprehensive tobacco control legislation.

The new legislation will enforce smoke free environments, stronger enforcement provisions on non-compliance of legislation, stronger provisions on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, which the industry is currently exploiting.

“There will also be stronger provisions on the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 18 and also on the displaying of tobacco products.

“Currently, there exists a Tobacco Product Bill that aims to close some of the loopholes of the Control of Smoking Act (1992). The current legislation lacks the provisions to make the tobacco industry accountable,” says the deputy permanent secretary.

According to El-Habib, Botswana and other developing countries are facing challenges in dealing with the aggressive efforts the tobacco industry is making to maintain perceptions and attitudes towards tobacco use as well as in curbing the proliferation of both legal and illegal channels of distribution of tobacco products.

El-Habib says while there are no conclusive figures for Botswana, the rate of smoking among boys in the Sub-Saharan Africa region stands at between 8 and 43 percent for boys and 5 and 30 percent for girls.

Botswana signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003 and ratified it in 2005. A 2012 civil society report compiled by the Anti-Tobacco Network and other NGOs titled ‘Implementing the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’ reveals that government has done exceptionally well in coming up with legislation such as the Control of Smoking Act of 1992.

TISA supports law enforcement authorities in the fight against illegal trade of cigarettes, which is currently the single biggest threat facing the sustainability of the legal tobacco industry throughout Southern Africa. Its Chief Executive Officer, François van der Merwe, says illegal trade in cigarettes has become a serious concern across the region, not only for the legitimate tobacco industry but also for the law enforcement officials and governments.

He notes that in Botswana, there has been an influx of illicit cigarettes from Zimbabwe due to both porous borders and significant price discrepancies between legal cigarettes and the illegal ones.

In addition, TISA has since 2012, signed memorandums of understanding with Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland, to facilitate the sharing of information within a legitimate framework among the parties in an effort to curb the illegal trading in cigarettes.

October 2013
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