Africa moves to improve the tobacco control fight
Kenya has long been a leader in tobacco control and its activities can be an important and influential model for other countries in the region to follow, writes Tih Ntiabang.
Both on the continent and in the world, Kenya has been lauded for its progressive tobacco control measures. Through its track and trace model introduced in 2012, it is the only country on the continent and one of the few in the world that is able to monitor local cigarette production and exact the tax that should be attached to it.
As a result of the initiative tax contributions from tobacco manufacturers in the country has substantially increased and illicit tobacco trade has drastically decreased.
Now, with the system up and running, the east African business hub is now taking another progressive step. It plans to introduce laws forcing cigarette manufacturers to display picture health warnings on cigarette boxes and other tobacco packages.
In the past, manufacturers have been compelled to print warnings on the packs. But the new regulations will force them to increase the size of the warning and to include the graphic image depicting the detrimental effects that smoking has on the body.
Kenya’s new regulations come just after the Uruguayan government won a four year long court battle against tobacco giant Phillip Morris International. The tobacco multinational had refused to enlarge the health warning and include a graphic picture warning. It also follows a victory in Australia, where plain packaged cigarette boxes have successfully been introduced.
Numerous studies show that compared to text only warnings, pictorial health warnings are much more effective to communicate the dangers of smoking to prospective smokers — especially young people.
Pictorial health warnings along with increasing the cost of tobacco by raising taxes are listed in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as two of the most effective measures of tobacco control. The convention is an international treaty, co-ordinated by the World Health Organisation to get reduce the rates of smoking across the world.
Kenya became a party to the treaty in 2004. Today most countries in Africa — with the exception of Malawi — are also on board. Globally the figure sits at 180, representing nearly 90% of the world’s people.
The reality is that 17 of the 27 countries in the world where smoking has increased over the past 15 years are in Africa, as The Economist recently reported. And while half of 1 billion smokers will die of a smoking-related disease, by 2030, 80% of tobacco-related deaths will be in low and middle-income countries. The costs of the tobacco epidemic are monumental and they will only rise if action is not taken now.
Kenya’s decision on cigarette packaging will make it an important role model for countries in the region where the fighting the increasingly deadly tobacco epidemic has been spiralling.
Working towards a global goal
Globally, several critical steps have been taken towards tobacco control. Last year world leaders decided to include the implementation of the tobacco control treaty in the Sustainable Development Goals as part of the blueprint for the world’s development between now and 2030.
And just a few months prior, at the United Nations’ Third International Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, global leaders recommended tobacco tax as one source of domestic revenue which could finance the sustainable development goals.
In addition, the convention has introduced the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products as a tool to fight illicit trade. Its interventions is the track and trace model, which has already been implemented in Kenya’s although the protocol is yet to be ratified.
If the protocol is accepted, the world should expect the tobacco industry to scream loudly against the commitment to enforce this these measures. It’s the same thing they did against proposed tobacco tax increases.
The tobacco industry has consistently argued increased tobacco taxes will result in cigarette smuggling. The industry tries to scare off governments by twisting facts and data, particularly about the alleged consequences which follow significant tax increases.
What the industry fails to mention is that research has shown that the countries with the highest tax rates have some of the lowest smuggling rates. This is partly due to the country devoting resources to fighting illicit trade within their borders and in conjunction with their neighbouring countries.
This is, however, only one of several tactics that the tobacco industry uses to interfere with tobacco control mechanisms. In all, the World Health Organisation has identified six interference tactics.
These tactics are precisely why an industry tobacco monitoring centre is needed in all parts of the world. While Britian and Brazil have set up such observatories, South Africa takes a critical step in October by setting up its own monitoring centre. The observatory will be hosted by the Sefako Makgatho University in collaboration with the World Health Organisation. The plan is to inform both policy makers, advocates as well as the general public of the ways in which the tobacco industry has attempted to interfere with tobacco control initiatives.
It comes just one month before the latest Framework Convention for Tobacco Control’s seventh conference of parties (COP7) meeting.
On November 7, governments from across the globe will meet at the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control’s seventh meeting of conference of parties (COP7). The meeting will evaluate how effective the treaty has been in tackling the tobacco epidemic.
Global civil society has been advocating for several key items to be adopted on the agenda, which should contribute to the sustainable development goal target of ensuring the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control is as effective as possible on the ground.
One agenda item is for an implementation review mechanism to be introduced. The mechanism would harness the collective wisdom of the conference of the parties to review country records and recommend ways to overcome any barriers.
Another important agenda item is the report back from the working group on the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control sustainability or ways to generate increased political will, resources and coordination between the various bodies within a government — including health, finance, customs and development agencies — that have a stake in tobacco control.
The conference of parties meeting is an important step to ensure that tobacco control is not wiped off the agenda.
In addition, individual governments’ adoption of these and other measures, including increasing co-operation to fight tobacco industry interference globally, will ultimately help ensure that the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control can live up to its potential in fighting the increasingly deadly tobacco epidemic in Africa.
* Tih Ntiabang is Regional Director of the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), a civil society network which aims to strengthen the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.