FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka
A HEALTHY nation is a wealthy nation, says one of the Ministry of Health statements, emphasising the need for people to lead responsible and productive lives.The phrase stresses a point that a healthy population is productive and capable of creating wealthy for the nation.
This is the more reason why the Ministry of Health and players in the tobacco sector are in the process of enacting the Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhalants Control Bill 2018 to address the numerous health and income concerns around tobacco.
The bill, which is at the draft stage, among others things, is aimed at reducing effects of non-communicable diseases said to be responsible for an estimated 400,000 deaths in Zambia, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as a result of abuse of tobacco and its by-products.
This piece of legislation is aimed at ensuring that the harm of tobacco on people’s health is well regulated, the environment in which the crop is cultivated is well protected and tobacco farmers get a better return.
Furthermore, the bill is in fulfilment of the Ministry of Health’s obligation to protect the public from the devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.
According to Ministry of Health permanent secretary Jabbin Mulwanda, the bill is in line with the country’s commitment to attain aspirations of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC).
The FCTC is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO and signed in 2003 in Geneva. Zambia ratified it in 2008.
The treaty was developed in response to the globalisation of the tobacco epidemic which is facilitated through a variety of complex factors with cross-border effects, including trade liberalisation and direct foreign investment.
Other factors such as global marketing, transnational tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and the international movement of contraband and counterfeit cigarettes have also contributed to the explosive increase in tobacco use.
The WHO-FCTC represents a paradigm shift in developing a regulatory strategy to address addictive substances. In contrast to previous drug control treaties, it asserts the importance of demand reduction strategies on tobacco as well as supply issues.
So, for Zambia, Dr Mulwanda indicates that it is important to build the capacity of stakeholders through consultative meetings on the WHO-FCTC as part of the process to formulate the bill.
“The Ministry of Health, in consultation with all stakeholders, is in the process of developing the Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhalants Control Bill 2018,” he said.
Once enacted into law, it would provide guidelines of tobacco products, devices, and nicotine inhalant products and the tobacco industry, including manufacturing, import and sale.
The Act would further look at tobacco packaging, labelling, advertising, promotion, and sponsorship of the products and devices, their use in public and workplaces, and to provide matters connected with or incidental to all these.
Zambia drafted a Tobacco Control Bill in 2010 but it was not adopted. So the country has relied on the Public Health Act, but the coming of the Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhalants Control Bill 2018 may repeal and strengthen a number of sections in the existing legislations on tobacco.
As part of the consultative process, on June 18, 2018 in Lusaka, the Ministry of Health, together with the Centre for Primary Care Research-University of Zambia (UNZA) School of Medicine held a tobacco farmers’ survey dissemination meeting for Members of Parliament, mostly committee chairpersons and other stakeholders.
UNZA dean of the School of Medicine, professor of physiology and cardiovascular Health, Fastone Goma, who was the principal investigator in the tobacco farmers’ survey, said most tobacco farmers struggled to make ends meet.
Prof Goma said apart from the many health implications that tobacco has, including causing 40 different types of cancers, the struggles of tobacco farmers around the country were in contrast with the information that tobacco was a beneficial cash crop.
“The tobacco industry’s narrative suggests that growing tobacco leaf provides a good living for thousands of Zambian farmers. The results of a major survey unequivocally demonstrate the opposite scenario,” he said.
Prof Goma said 515 small- scale tobacco farmers in six tobacco-growing districts across Central, Eastern and Southern provinces were interviewed in the survey.
Zambia is said to have more than 56,000 children hooked to smoking with a growing number being addicted to shisha, a modern piped tobacco, whereas 1 million plus adults continue to use tobacco each day, despite the substance killing half of its consumers.
According to statistics from the survey, 80.4 percent of the smokers in Zambia are male, while the remaining 19.6 percent are female.
Tobacco Free Association of Zambia executive director Brenda Chitindi said the Ministry of Health should compute figures on how much the Government was spending on treating tobacco-related sicknesses.
“We have been told by the tobacco industry that tobacco is contributing to the country’s GDP (gross domestic product) but we would also love to have figures on how much money government is losing in treating patients either locally or those evacuated due to tobacco caused diseases,” she said.
Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Community and Social Services Christopher Kalila said the spread of Isunko, a traditionally sniffed powered tobacco especially among women, is worrying.
“Isunko [use] has spread like a bush fire and it is highly addictive. We hope that the new Act can address such concerns,” Dr Kalila said as he further wondered: “If tobacco is really a high-value crop, are why farmers are still poor? There is nothing to show.”
And parliamentary Public Accounts Committee chairperson Howard Kunda said as the consultative process on the enactment of the Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhalants Control Bill 2018 is going on, it is important to clearly state the pros and cons of tobacco.
“We have to be clear on the health effects of tobacco and the economic benefits it has to the economy,” he said.
Maxas Ng’onga, who is chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Lands and Natural Resources, said the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) realised US$120 million in taxes from tobacco while 247,000 jobs were created.
“But we will support the messages that tobacco is harmful. Tobacco is the only crop in the country that you have to register before you start growing it because it has to be monitored on how it is grown and how it is sold,” he said.
Nonetheless, Richard Zulu, one of the researchers on the survey, said as much as financial figures could be mentioned, people’s health is far more important.
“The price of one life cannot equal any amount of dollars,” Mr Zulu said.
In unison, the gathering submitted that as more consultations take place for the enactment of the Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhalants Control Act, all the concerns and controversy around tobacco should be ironed out for the benefit of everyone.
FRANCIS LUNGU, Lusaka