The Vision for Alternative Development (VALD), a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in the health sector has launched its first Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index in Ghana with a call on government to activate laws against tobacco consumption.
The 2020 Tobacco Industry Index Report launch which took place in Accra brought together stakeholders, industry players and the media.
Addressing the gathering, the Programmes Director of VALD, Mr. Labram Musah, explained that the Ghana’s Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report sought to evaluate the extent of the tobacco Industry’s influence on Ghana’s policy efforts to control the use of tobacco.
Mr. Musah explained further that despite the damming effects of tobacco and its related products on the lives of Ghanaians, the government has done little to make the product unattractive for consumption.
VALD however renewed its calls for an increase in taxes, reduce importation, ban where possible and encourage the tobacco industry players to contribute their social responsibility in society.
The report indicated that government effort in tackling tobacco industry interference have been slow and are far from satisfactory to the fight against tobacco and its related product in the country.
It also identified several challenging issues including, lack of transparency in dealing with the tobacco industry in Ghana, conflict of interest among government appointees or officials with the tobacco industry and tobacco industry Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to interfere with government policy regulation or implementation to control the use of tobacco in the country.
The Programmes Director of VALD argued that players in the Tobacco industry has enjoyed some benefits resulting from government inactiveness in implementing laws on tobacco and its related products.
He said, “In the wake of the Tobacco Control Regulation, 2016 which required health warnings and messages for tobacco and tobacco products, the tobacco industry was allowed a maximum period of eighteen months (540 days) to implement the pictorial health warnings as compared to 180 days in most countries.”
Mr. Labram said so far, there is no evidence of contributions from the tobacco industry in terms of offering assistance to the government or the government accepting offers from the tobacco industry in recent times.
This, he said seems contrary to a Memorandum of Understanding between the government and the tobacco industry to help enforce a ban on illicit tobacco products through the provision of motorbikes.
The 2020 Tobacco Industry Index Report also faulted government for dealing secretly with the tobacco industry which goes against some laws regulating the tobacco industry.
For instance, the government does not disclose its meetings with the tobacco industry, stressing that, “the tobacco control regulation L.I.2247, under industry interference, stipulates that any interaction between the industry and the regulator must be strictly limited to tobacco control and enforcement.”
“There is no strict prohibition of contributions from the tobacco industry to the government and its agencies even though the 2012 Public Health Act, under sponsorship, indicates that a person shall not initiate or engage in any form of tobacco sponsorship.
The report again shown that since the passage of Act 851, Ghana has not developed a code of conduct to guide public officers in their conduct in dealing with the tobacco industry in line with Article 5.3. These gaps in the existing policies and legislation have the potential to actively promote tobacco industry interference.
The group said it is worried because despite existing laws to bite, the seemly friendly nature of government policy and regulations serves as an incentive to promote the tobacco industry activities.
The government should take immediate protective measures to reduce if not ban the production and importation of tobacco and its related products.
Strengthen and capacitate the interagency-multi-sectoral committee with resources to develop and implement enforcement mechanisms to control tobacco use in the country.
Ban tobacco-related CSR activities as stipulated in Article 13 and Article 5.3 Guidelines of the WHO FCTC.
The tobacco industry should fully disclose all its activities including revenue and profits, tax exceptions, or any privileges received by the tobacco industry.
Improve transparency in government interaction with the tobacco industry including making known any records of lobbyists acting in the interest of the tobacco industry, develop a code of conduct to guide public officials when interacting with the tobacco industry and also develop programs to regularly increase awareness of public officials and agencies on FCTC Article 5.3.
READ BELOW EXCERPTS OF FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATION
The findings from tobacco, alcohol, and sugar-sweetened beverages
The survey presents findings aimed at exposing the weakness in the implementation of the Ghana Tobacco Control Law since its passage in 2012. It also aimed to show the affordability, accessibility, and exposure of these harmful products to kids and vulnerable groups.
It also aims to give credence to industry interferences in public health policies. It’s clear from the results that prices of tobacco, alcohol, and SSBs are among the cheapest products sold on the Ghanaian market today. As low as 20pesewas one can buy a cigarette, as low as 50 pesewas to 1cedis one can buy alcohol in sachet and tot. These show how weak we are as a nation where public health and safety is of no importance anymore. Where in an advanced world can you buy alcohol in tot/glass. Sachet alcohol is banned in many African countries because they know the effect.
Shisha is now the new trend and the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and Ministry allow the influx of these new deadly products and the harm it brings to most of our youth especially those at the Universities despite the numerous calls to ban it. Again knowing the deadly effect, countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and many other countries are planning to ban but in Ghana, we are trying to find a way to regulate it.
- The government should increase the tax on tobacco, alcohol, and other unhealthy products, we want to see it being announced in the 2021 budget statement, a proposal has been sent to the government and we hope that the Ministry of Finance will consider the proposal. Since 2015 and there have not been tax increases on tobacco products making the products very cheap in the market targeting the youth and vulnerable groups.
- FDA to ensure the effective implementation of the TC law especially the section that protects minors from smoking and exposure to tobacco, alcohol and SSBs.
- Many countries are adopting tax measures as the most cost-effective means to control and reduce consumption alongside other public health measures including reducing NCDs
- Adopt the alcohol regulations and develop policy/regulations on SSBs, at the end of 2018, more than 40 countries were enacting and taking taxes on SSBs including South Africa (UNICEF, 2019)
Finally, countries that scored well on the Global Tobacco Index have prevailed against tobacco industry interference by implementing measures to protect themselves. This underscores the need for the whole government’s commitment to withstand industry interference and better protect tobacco control measures.
It’s important to note that Ghana have made some progress- passed a tobacco control law and regulation, adopted picture health warning on tobacco packages etc.
Story: Franklin ASARE-DONKOH
Writer’s email: email@example.com