Saturday, September 11, 2010

Uganda changes health warning sign on cigarettes

Uganda has begun enforcing compulsory requirements for cigarette manufacturers and importers to label packets with a stronger warning about the health risks of smoking.

This is aimed to warn the public on the public health risks that are linked to tobacco use, and in particular cigarette smoking. Uganda now becomes the second East African country after Kenya to implement such a requirement.

Under the new requirements issued by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), the new health warning on cigarette packets should read, “Cigarette Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Diseases and Death.” The warning should have a Swahili translation that reads, “Uvutaji Wa Sigara Husababisha Saratani ya Mapafu, Magonjwa ya Moto na Kifo.”

Effective 1st September 2010, it became illegal to manufacture or import tobacco products into Uganda that do not bear these requirements. The new warning must cover 30% the packet and must be displayed in bold print. Also, the cigarette packet should indicate the number of cigarettes contained including the tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide content as well as the name and address of manufacturer.

The new warning on cigarettes is a culmination of two years of negotiation between the tobacco companies and UNBS to change the warnings that were considered inadequate and did not explain risks of tobacco use.

Anti-smoking activists have view the new requirement for health warnings as a positive development. The anti-tobacco lobby The Environmental Action Network (TEAN) spokesperson Phillip Karugaba on Sunday described it as “welcome news.”

From the cigarette manufacturing companies, BAT which possesses over 80% of the market share in Uganda says that the new requirements are feasible. Eric Kiniti, the BAT Regulatory Affairs Manager for East Africa said they have already started printing new packaging labels which should be in the market soon.

“British American Tobacco Uganda will not import any tobacco products that are not compliant with the new requirements. As you are aware, BAT Uganda products are imported from our sister company in Kenya. We are committed to comply fully with these requirements,” Kiniti said in a statement.

But a quick browse through various cigarette retail points in Kampala city over the weekend revealed that the sale of cigarettes with the old packet warnings continued. But BAT said there are old stocks still within the supply chain by distributors, stockists and retailers. The company aims to run this stock down before products with new packaging are introduced.

“The regulations are focussing on products that are being imported or leaving a local factory, in the case of importers and local manufacturers respectively, after 1st of September 2010. We shall therefore expect them to run out as normal as we introduce the products with the new packaging,” he added. Detailed data on health effects of tobacco use in Uganda is scare. But a study by Mulago Hospital indicates that most patients admitted with oral cancer are previously smokers.

Also, BAT the leading tobacco company does not readily reveal information of quantities of cigarettes consumed by Ugandans. However, experts closely monitoring the industry reveal that Ugandans smoke a total of 1.7 billion cigarette sticks every year. This includes illicit cigarettes and genuine products. The cigarette sticks consumed by Ugandans are processed from only 1million kilos of tobacco leaf; out of 20-25 million kilos leaf grown by Ugandan tobacco farmers.

Karugaba said the new health warnings will lead to a fall in smoking in the country. This is based on evidence of a study that was done in South Africa. The study showed that in developing countries that generally lack information on the health effects of smoking, warning labels can inform people about the dangers of tobacco. Also, another 2007 study done in the UK showed that with prominent health warnings, smokers considered quitting smoking, thought about the associated health risks and cut down on smoking.

But Kiniti said, “It is still difficult to anticipate the effects of the requirements on cigarette sales before the products with the new health warnings are introduced to the market.” Uganda is signatory to the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and has enacted polices regulating smoking in public places. The FCTC is the world’s first public health treaty on tobacco control.

But while the new warnings remain welcome, they fall short of meeting the FCTC standards on size and pictorial warning labels on cigarettes. Article 11 of the Convention sets standards to reduce demand for tobacco use. The Article calls for rotation of warning messages, use of colour picture warnings and graphics. Also, the words of the warning should be 50% or more of the principal display areas on the packet; but not less than 30%. This shows that Uganda has opted for the minimum standard of display. But activists are positive that despite not achieving the FCTC standards, it is just the start of the process.

The implementation of new health warnings against tobacco comes ahead of the fourth conference of FCTC parties due in November in Uruguayan city of Punta del Este. The latest requirement for health warnings will most receive commendation from anti-tobacco activists during the meeting in Uruguay.

In March 2004, government issued a statutory instrument banning smoking at work and in public places such as restaurants, education institutions and bars. Also, owners of public places are required to place prescribed “No Smoking” signs and designate smoking areas. However, there are concerns the enforcement of this ban by National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) remains inadequate. Compliance remains voluntary and only enforced at airports, hospitals, and some hotels. However, it is neglected in homes, public places such as night clubs, streets, and in homes. Ends…


  1. Good, that new warning on cigarette packets.

    But, sometimes, scaring consumers does not work.

    Start with the assumption that people, even before the new scary warning, used to joke about the effect of cigarettes on their lungs.

    And that some people smoke because it fits them in a clique, or helps make a class or style-statement (think Cuban cigars).

    With the nicotine content of cigarettes imported from Kenya being higher, the habit among the Uganda smokers will be harder to kick.

    Think of the men who take ethanol in Kenya just to get a knockout sip, even after hearing that their colleagues have died or lost their eyesight as a result of consuming alcohol.

    Until their lungs or liver get perforated or scotched, smokers and drunks may not be so scared of ill health and the price of cigarettes or chang’aa.

    Why not ban the cigarettes altogether? The State can conjure up other businesses from which to extort money.

  2. Good thing there are always warning in every pack of cigarettes. I think e-cigarettes would really be helpful and might be an alternative for ordinary cigarettes.

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