The Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) is much concerned about the continuous existence of tobacco industry interference in public health policies in Ghana. It is no doubt that the industry uses diverse tactics to influence policies in their favor putting the lives of people in danger. Unfortunately, most countries including Ghana have not fully dealt with and handled these interferences swiftly to protect the lives of the citizenry despite being a signatory on the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2004.
In a recent global tobacco industry interferences index ranking report, Ghana scored 58 while and Uganda, Peru and the United Kingdom scored between 30-39. This means the level of industry interference in Ghana is higher than that of countries that ranked between below 39. ‘The lower the score, the better or fewer industry interferences”. Globally, interference by the tobacco industry has been widely demonstrated to be a major affront to government attempts to implement the WHO FCTC Article 5.3.
In Ghana, the tobacco industry has over the years benefitted and still benefitting from the government’s actions. For instance, the government made a declaration to ban the use of shisha in 2018 but this is yet to take effect; an appeal from the Ghana Health Service to ban the use of tobacco products in Ghanaian movies is also yet to take effect; travelers (diplomats) are permitted large quantities of duty-free tobacco products in the country; there is a laxity on the part of Ghana’s government to raise taxation on tobacco and tobacco-related products despite calls by Civil Society Organizations in the country. It has been observed that the government has not made any policy attempt to increase taxes on tobacco products for six years (2015-2020), a situation serving as an incentive to promote the business of the tobacco industry. These are indications that government policies support or benefit the trade activities of the tobacco industry in the country.
The report also revealed that, the government does not disclose its meetings with the tobacco industry or any form of engagement with the tobacco industry because there is no specific regulation that specifies the disclosure of meetings. However, the Tobacco Industry Regulations, LI 2247 under industry interference stipulates that any interaction between the tobacco industry and the regulator must be strictly limited to tobacco control and enforcement.
The report also revealed that there is no strict prohibition of contributions from the tobacco industry to governments and its agencies, although the 2012 Public Health Act under sponsorship indicates that a “person shall not initiate or engage in any form of tobacco sponsorship”. Since the passage of the Tobacco Control Act in 2012, Ghana has not developed a code of conduct for public officials in dealing with the tobacco industry in line with WHO FCTC Article 5.3. The gaps in the policies and legislation have the potential to actively promote tobacco industry interference.
Though the high burden of tobacco use is a global concern, and historically perceived as a public health problem for high-income countries (HICs), recent evidence suggests low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) are now disproportionately affected by high tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.
Evidence in other jurisdictions has pointed to the activities of the tobacco industry to prevent or delay implementation of the WHO FCTC and local laws and policies in individual countries.
Although Ghana’s score is not bad, VALD recommends that the government:
- Should take steps to improve transparency in its engagement with the tobacco industry including making known any records of lobbyists in the country acting in the interest of the tobacco industry.
- Mandate the tobacco industry through development of policies to publicly report or declare its CSR initiatives in the country as this is not currently available in the public domain.
- Full disclosure in the media or website of all activities including revenue and profits, tax exceptions or any privileges the tobacco industry receives
- Develop a code of conduct to guide its agencies and officials in engaging the tobacco industry
- Develop programs to regularly train or educate officials and agencies about FCTC Article 5.3. These programs will equip them with the requisite knowledge to avoid falling prey to the activities of the tobacco industry or inadvertently facilitating the activities of the tobacco industry to undermine tobacco control policies in the country.
- Mandates the Ministry of Finance to regularly review the price of tobacco products, tax regimes and propose an appropriate measure to effectively regulate the affordability and access to tobacco products.