As the world continues to suffer tobacco induced diseases and deaths, a report released by the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) has revealed that Zambia, Tanziana and Cameroun have the highest incidences of tobacco industry interference on the African continent.
Tagged: The 2023 Africa Tobacco Industry Interference Index, the report was launched on Wednesday, October 18, 2023 in a virtual event attended by tobacco control advocates, government officials, media practitioners and other industry stakeholders.
The Index, produced by ATCA) in collaboration with the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM) and the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), measured how governments are responding to tobacco industry interference and protecting their public health policies from commercial and vested interests of the industry as required by Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
Speaking at the unveiling, lead author of the report, Dr. Arti Singh, highlighted the seven indicators used by the index to measure the degree of tobacco industry interference notably tobacco industry participation in policy development, tobacco industry Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, benefits accorded the tobacco industry, unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry, transparency when dealing with the tobacco industry, tobacco industry conflicts of interest and preventive measures taken by governments to protect their public health policies from tobacco industry interference.
Specifically, the report revealed that Zambia, Tanzania and Cameroun have the highest tobacco industry interference with Cameroun recording the worst performance, while Uganda, Ethiopia and Botswana have the lowest rates of tobacco industry interference, with Botswana being the best-performing country.
Executive Secretary of the Camerounian Tobacco Control Coalition, Judith Chekumo noted that Cameroun’s poor performance in the index can be explained by the absence of a tobacco control law, in spite of efforts for the adoption of such a law since 2012.
She noted that the little progress made by the country including the adoption of pictorial health warnings, a measure that was partially implemented during the first round of images and has never progressed due to delays accorded the tobacco industry by the government.
She advocated greater monitoring of the tobacco industry in public health policies, and support to update and push for the adoption of the tobacco control bill in Cameroon.
On his part, Executive Secretary of the Senegalese Ligue Against Tobacco (LISTAB), Djibril Wele, noted that access to information has been the biggest setback in Senegal with most civil servants having no knowledge of tobacco industry interference, adding that Senegal doesn’t seem to have a strong political will to advance tobacco control because several policies in the law are not implemented.
Citing progress in the domain of tracking and tracing to counter illicit trade in tobacco products and the potential inclusion of novel tobacco products in tobacco taxes in the country, he advocated greater collaboration among government authorities to accelerate implementation of the tobacco control law in Senegal.
Executive Director of the Anti Tobacco Network in Botswana, Prof. Bontle Mbongwe, noted that her country’s tobacco control law has a provision protecting against tobacco industry interference. Passed in 2021, the law greatly contributed to Botswana’s best performance.
She highlighted the need for local-level research that produced appropriate evidence for local policy and decision-makers adding that this was a key element in Botswana’s success, just as she called for continuous capacity building and support to government officials who have competing priorities. Commenting on the report,
Also speaking, Director of ATIM, Prof. Olalekan Ayo-Yusuf, expressed delight at the introduction of excise taxes on e-cigarettes in two countries and called on African governments to increase tobacco taxes to the WHO-recommended level.
He urged stakeholders to remain focused on vital points like capacity in research and the use of research findings for effective tobacco control advocacy and commended African countries, most of whom have a smoking rate of less than 10 percent according to the report which according to him, means that Africa does not need the tobacco industry-pushed harm reduction argument.
Meanwhile, lead author of the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index, Dr. Mary Assunta, said the Africa index exposes how the major tobacco companies in the world push their selfish agenda in Africa, rather than support public health. She pointed out that implementing tobacco control is possible and inexpensive, and the implementation of tobacco control laws greatly impacts public health.
She called on tobacco control advocates to use the index to show governments the identified loopholes, adding that governments ought to be held accountable for the non-respect of engagements they take when ratifying the WHO FCTC.
In his closing remarks, Executive Secretary of the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), Leonce Sessou, enjoined tobacco control actors to use the index to foster tobacco control advocacy in their respective countries.
According to the 2023 Africa Tobacco Industry Interference Index, in comparison with their 2021 scores, three countries, Burkina Faso, Botswana and Ethiopia showed marked improvement, while two countries Cote d’Ivoire and Zambia marginally improved.
Eight countries showed deterioration from their 2021 rankings with Kenya recording the highest level of deterioration. The Index proposes several recommendations for governments including denormalising and banning ‘socially responsible’ activities by the tobacco industry, maintaining a strong stance against tobacco industry interference, fast-tracking the passing of pending tobacco control laws and building the capacity of tobacco control stakeholders.
It also recommended generating evidence for knowledge transfer, promoting economically viable alternative livelihoods to tobacco farming, adopting a code of conduct for interacting with the tobacco industry, as well as banning the sale of single sticks and duty-free tobacco products, among others.