Tougher action needed against tobacco

Anti-tobacco activists are feeling hard done by and understandably so.

They increasingly feel isolated and unsupported in a fight against a pervasive, addictive and sinister substance that policymakers appear untroubled by.

Tobacco usage in Botswana is on the rise, with both legal and illicit cigarettes freely and cheaply available to minors. Adult smokers enjoy unfettered liberty to puff away in shopping malls, bus and taxi ranks and other public places, exposing fellow citizens to secondary smoke.

In homes and vehicles across the country, ignorant or reckless adults light up in the presence of minors and toddlers, exposing them to the evils of tobacco, while also setting the wrong example to malleable minds.

Botswana does indeed have legislation and policies designed to control or reduce tobacco usage, having identified the product as a key public health risk in the order of alcohol abuse.

Botswana is a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, under which countries are committed to price and tax measures, stiffer regulation of advertising, packaging, contents and the introduction of reduction measures to ease dependence.

Botswana also has several of its own laws specifically aimed at reducing tobacco usage and minimising its impact on public health. These include the Control of Smoking Act, Trade Act, Penal Code and Customs and Excise Act.

These pieces of legislation bar reckless smoking, endangerment of others, sale to minors and other reprehensible behaviour, while stiffening penalties and tightening entry of both legal and illegal tobacco products.

The trouble, however, is enforcement. Irresponsible smokers are not being snatched out of the Main Mall while blowing smoke in pregnant women’s faces!

Authorities say enforcement of the law is difficult due to manpower and the danger of encumbering the legal system with thousands of ‘trivial’ cases, especially where the punishment is known not to deter even the most casual of smokers.

However, as lobbyists have noted, the same challenges have not deterred government in its steeled efforts against alcohol abuse. Police raids have been ramped up, shebeens have been closed, penalties have been raised and the price of alcohol is presently 55 percent above its actual level due to the alcohol levy.

While the alcohol industry represents a considerable manufacturing presence in Botswana, with jobs, contribution to GDP and even export revenue, the cigarette industry here only benefits international producers and local mass retailers.

Why should our public health be compromised for a product that is of little economic benefit to Batswana? The Minister of Health needs to lead the redoubling of efforts towards tobacco control, through enforcement of the law and adherence to internationally agreed upon covenants.

Today’s thought

“Tobacco issues although complicated, are very old and should have long been dealt with.”


 - Bontle Mbongwe

Anti-Tobacco Network executive director

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