ARUA. President Yoweri Museveni in his wealth creation campaigns has over and again advised subsistence farmers never to consider tobacco as one of the crops because it would ultimately not benefit them.
The president argues that crops like tobacco need large scale mechanized systems to operate at a profitable level.
Such pleas, not only from the president but other anti-tobacco activists have fallen in deaf ears to thousands of the peasant community in the country.
The West Nile region continues to see unprecedented felling of forest cover, the problem is further amplified in places like Terego, the renowned engine of Tobacco growing in the region by the presence of refugees who depend on these already depleted resources for survival.
Away from the tobacco field, it would indeed be needless to overemphasize the dangers of smoking if the warnings were heeded to, even cigarette packets contain strong warnings on smoking, laws have been enacted and penalties prescribed for any abuse.
But has all such effort been futile regarding the fact that the Tobacco industry seemingly continues to thrive?
Ms Destiny Gladys Chaiga of Uganda health communication alliance (UHCA), a non-governmental organization that champions the fight against smoking doesn’t think so.
“It is definitely not an easy fight to stop smoking because you come against a powerful establishment that has existed for years across the world,” she says of the tobacco industries.
But Chiaga says one needs to be relentless to achieve the goal of a tobacco-free society, a reason her organization works closely with the media to sensitize and advocate on behalf of communities who may not be aware of the dangers of the crop.
However, the government has come on the spotlight for enacting laws that remain on paper without any serious implementation.
“I want to tell us that Uganda has one of the best laws in Africa regarding smoking but the implementation of these laws is so much wanting,” Ms Catherine Adok, the East Africa Regional coordinator of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said pointing to the Tobacco Control Act 2015.
Under the act that took effect on 19th May 2016, fines from UGX 200,000 up to UGX 4.8 Million with their respective prison terms were put in place for various smoking-related offences.
Some of the commonest offences include smoking inside or within 50meters of a public place, advertisement of tobacco products, promising or offering gifts such as key holders, T-shirts, caps etc to persons who buy tobacco products among others.
Cost implications and effects of Tobacco use
In their various forms of use, experts warn that Tobacco is dangerous to one’s body.
Dr Paul Onzubo, the Maracha District Health officer, outlines some of the diseases caused by smoking (both by active and passive smokers) as cancers of the lungs blood, liver bladder, kidney as well as Bronchitis and Asthma.
He further says many women and men have become barren and impotent because hormones in their reproductive system are destroyed by tobacco use (estrogen for women and erectile disorder for men).
Onzubo says tobacco users are rather stressed and always claim that smoking relieves them, which claim he quickly rubbishes as serious misconception.
A study by Global adult Tobacco survey (GATS) in 2013 established that:
• 1.3 million people used Tobacco in its various forms.
• 42.3% of adults did not know or believe that smoking causes stroke
• 9/10 adults favor a law prohibiting all advertisements for tobacco products
• 88.2% of adults favor an increase in taxes on Tobacco products.
Relatedly a study by the Centre for Tobacco control Africa (CTCA) Makerere University, American cancer society in conjunction with the Ministry of health in 2017 established the total annual health cost of tobacco use at a whopping UGX 328.82 billion.
Others have their say on Tobacco use
Ms Agnes Ajiyo, a vendor at Arua market
Smoking has been a big challenge to my family because it used to be a factor fueling quarrels between me and my husband whenever because I will always try to make him stop.
I am now living happily with my husband after he stopped smoking due to its side effects, the irritating smell that I used to suffer is no more.
But until now I feel bad whenever someone smokes near me because the smoke I inhale makes me cough.
Mr John Adriko, a Boda Boda man in Arua town
The government of Uganda should stop factories from manufacturing cigarettes first so that farmers will have no market to sell their tobacco leaves.
People are continuously smoking because cigarette factories make available the market for tobacco farmers and their products.
One of the smokers who preferred anonymity said he was forced to start smoking while in senior three because of peer pressure with many of his ‘brilliant’ friends claiming it helps them to sustain long hours of reading.
He is fighting to overcome his addiction and wants to leave smoking in the long run.