Sunday, May 29, 2022

Anti-tobacco network to scale up health lobby

The Anti-Tobacco Network (ATN) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) is set to intensify its efforts to “de-normalize” tobacco consumption among the general public in Botswana.

Speaking at a Media Sensitization and Capacity Building on Tobacco Control workshop held at Mokolodi Nature Reserve, ATN’s Acting Board Chairperson Gaesi Maviya said because the health implications of tobacco consumption are not as immediate as with other hazardous substances, it poses a challenge in prioritising tobacco control.

“The health risks of tobacco are vastly underestimated by the public, and even by those responsible for promoting and protecting public health,” she said.

Maviya attributes the easy access of tobacco products and lenient policies, to the widespread underestimation of risks associated with tobacco use. She made reference to the alcohol levy, citing the levy as a result of the immediate consequences of alcohol abuse.

“The government of Botswana has urgent and stringent actions on alcohol such as raising the price of alcohol products, creating an alcohol levy fund to use it to address the problems that arise from alcohol abuse and regulate the sales of alcoholic beverages.”

She says these vital interventions by the government are not as evident in tobacco control.

Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Sheenaz El-Halabi says her ministry is involved in a large number of policy and legislative initiatives, service development and operational aspects of tobacco control.

“We also continually strive to ensure that tobacco control activities are compatible with the international best practice in tobacco control as well as with its obligations under the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,” she said.

El-Halabi says NGOs such as ATN can play a major role in reducing tobacco use through citizen engagement, advocacy, filling voids, targeted research and collaboration to effect change.

She called on the media to work in full partnership with the MoH, ATN and other stakeholders to shape tobacco control behaviours and practices that will de-normalise tobacco use.

In terms of legislation, the Deputy Permanent Secretary said the ministry is in the final stages of development of a comprehensive tobacco control legislation that will address stronger provisions on smoke free environments, enforcement of non-compliance legislation, advertising/promotion and sponsorship, currently exploited by the tobacco industry.

“It is important to note that our previous legislation lacked the provisions to hold the tobacco industry accountable and we are working on such provisions as well.”

WHO estimates show almost six million people died in 2011 from tobacco use alone and that eighty percent of the deaths occurred in low and middle-income countries.

The Anti-Tobacco Network is a non-governmental, non-profit making organisation currently based at the University of Botswana .ATN recognises tobacco use as the contributory factor to ill health and premature death in the developing world.

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