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Civil society actors slam the tobacco industry for using intermediaries to foster their CSR initiatives and promote their image in Uganda
Civil society actors have accused the tobacco industry of marketing its dangerous products to young people using a cover of allies especially NGOs and environmental conservation groups.
According to a survey conducted by Uganda Health Communication Alliance (UHCA) with support from African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), the tobacco industry gives huge sums of money to organizations. These organizations work with young people in order to portray themselves as safe an act that is contrary to Uganda’s Tobacco Control Act 2015 (TCA).
The survey report dubbed “The Big Tobacco Allies” reveals a number of intermediaries of Big Tobacco and how they serve the interest of the tobacco industry in Uganda.
These findings are important for all stakeholders/sectors concerned with tobacco control to fully comprehend the tobacco industry tactic of using third parties to further its intentions. This will help them to come up with better and coordinated efforts to counter tobacco industry interference.
Meanwhile, the report recommends that all individuals, associations, and agencies in and for Tobacco Control (TC) / public health, should:
- Advocate the full implementation of TCA and TC Regulations especially those directly relating to Article 5.3 of the FCTC
- Prosecute the TI and front groups particularly public officials who are in breach of the TCA and TC Regulations
- Raise awareness and condemn the evil actions of associating with TI and its front groups especially in the civil society sector
- Expose and counter the CSR actions and publicity generated through front groups
- Educate the masses especially the youth who are mainly maliciously targeted by TI about the dangers of tobacco use and promote the incredible benefits of Tobacco Control
It also recommends having a very clear disclosure and transparency policy that covers broadly all government officials, policy-makers, and non-governmental organizations in their interfaces with the tobacco industry in order to protect them from tobacco industry interference.
According to Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI), over 38 Ugandans die every day due to tobacco-related illnesses and it costs the government UGX 108.05 billion (USD 41.56 million) to treat tobacco attributable illnesses in Uganda (HCS Fact sheet Uganda 2017).
Tobacco use is on the rise among the youth currently estimated at 17% (GYTS, 2011). Men account for 11.6%, women 4.6%, and 7.9% overall (1.3 million adults) who use tobacco (smoked or smokeless), (GATS Fact Sheet Uganda 2013).
The threat posed by tobacco industry allies to the advancement of tobacco control in Uganda is evident through the fact that what these allies claim to represent is different from what they really are. Their motives are largely hidden and only advance the interest of tobacco multinationals.
Through their so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and other publicity stunts that enable them to interact with public officials, they have been able to garner good media reviews and further their inroads into the public space.
Therefore, even with the sustained efforts of tobacco control advocates ensuring that Uganda complies with the guidelines of the WHO-FCTC, no meaningful progress can or will be made if allies of the tobacco industry are allowed to continue their interventions.
Authorities must be reminded and re-educated about the conflict of interest that interactions with the tobacco industry and its front groups engender, and the fact that their utmost duty is safeguarding public health by ensuring strict adherence to the guidelines pointed out in the WHO-FCTC.
It is very crucial to continually control tobacco use, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic because tobacco use is a risk factor to COVID-19. Smoking interferes with lung function making it difficult for the body to fight off the virus that primarily attacks the lungs.
UHCA is a professional organization that brings together journalists and other communication professionals. Its main objectives are: to train, empower and support journalists and public information specialists who disseminate health information.
You can download the report from The Big Tobacco Allies