By Kiyimba Bruno
Youths under Geofrey Kuteesa foundation have this morning come out to the streets of Kitante in Kampala, to express their grief to the verge of tobacco.
The director of the group, Geofrey Kuteesa, says there are high risks of non-smokers to be affected with the Act.
In his statement, Kuteesa says that it is alarming that 5 months since the Tobacco Control Act, 2015 commenced, the Government of Uganda has not made any deliberate efforts to implement the law.
This tobacco control law commenced on 19th May 2016. It is expected that once enforced, this law will protect us from non-communicable diseases such as various types of cancers and heart diseases caused by tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.
The youth are the biggest beneficiary of this law since they form the biggest proportion of Uganda’s population. Government is not apprehending people who are still smoking in public places at will and those selling and using tobacco products banned under the law such as shisha and smokeless tobacco products like kuber.
“As the Government ignores it’s constitutional obligation of implementing the law, more people are being exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke”, he said.
He listed a list diseases that are a result of second hand tobacco smoke which included lung cancer, heart diseases, cancer of larynx (voice box), nasal sinuses, brain cancer, cancer of the bladder, cancer of rectum, stomach cancer, breast cancer and in children; low birth weight ear and eye problems, learning and development problems, Leukemia, liver cancer, Brain tumors, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath and lung infections.
He said that every Ugandan should be concerned about lack of seriousness on enforcement of the this law because we know that nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke at home or at workplaces increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20 – 30% and coronary heart disease by 25 – 35%.
The toll of failure to enforce this law will even be higher on Ugandan youth. Whereas tobacco use among adult Ugandans has reduced to 7.9%, it’s increasing among Uganda’s youth with 17% (GYTS, 2011) of them known to be tobacco users. The situation is even more troubling in schools where 19% of secondary students and 35% of students at tertiary institutions are known to be tobacco users. About three quarters of this proportion use smokeless tobacco products through sniffing, sucking and chewing. It’s no secret any more that new deceptively attractive tobacco products including those which have been banned by this law are sold cheaply and openly in shops across the country and sometimes given to children free of charge at supermarkets to hook them to tobacco use. Failure to get these toxic products, out of this country, will cost us a lot in terms of disease burden and funds used to treat illnesses caused by such products.
Let us remind ourselves that the cost of treating tobacco related illnesses is very high. According to Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), a cancer patient in advanced stages (stage 4) needs 6 cycles of chemotherapy (treatment) each costing approximately Shs 1 million, making cost per patient 6 million. Many people suffering from tobacco related diseases such as cancers, heart diseases and chest infections are left to suffer in agony because they cannot afford this high cost of treatment. The Parliament of Uganda who passed this law and our President who signed it new the benefits that can be reaped from it’s effective implementation. It’s unfortunate that those responsible for it’s implementation can’t see the urgency of enforcing it, even when they know that tobacco is a key risk factor to non-communicable disease, whose cases are on the increase. The efforts and resources the Parliament of Uganda invested in coming up with this law will be in vain as many Ugandans will continue to die of preventable death caused by tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke, if those responsible for it’s implementation are not told to play their role.
We, therefore, call upon the Government to uphold it’s commitment to protection of the health of Ugandans and abide by the Constitution of Uganda by expediting implementation of the tobacco control law which was enacted to prevent Ugandans for preventable death related to tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke. We also urge every Ugandan to join us demand for action against people who are still smoking in public places and work places with impunity.