Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV.
In Uganda, 8% of the adult population are current smokers. The country has legislation
that regulates tobacco smoking as well as e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are categorized
as electronic nicotine delivery systems and under the Tobacco Control Act, the manufacture,
importation, sale and distribution of these products are prohibited.
Joining us today to discuss the tobacco harm reduction situation in Uganda is Joel Sava,
a tobacco harm reductionist from Uganda. Hello Joel. First, can you tell us more about yourself?
Okay, so I am a scholar and ultimately a harm reductionist in training with the KSC currently
under the THRSP program, that is the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Program. And I
work with the THR, other than that, I work with THR Uganda.
and the harm reduction situation? Okay, so in Uganda we have the Tobacco Control
Law 2015 that was enacted back then, which has inhibited a lot of work that revolves
around THR. For starters, you're not able to sell, import or trade in any form of electronic
cigarettes. The law itself was a blanket ban that did not put into consideration any, it
did not discriminate between forms of nicotine intake. It simply closed out everything that
is not pharmaceutical. So you're not able to access electronic cigarettes,
or anything like that readily on the market, other than the black market. And other illicit
forms of nicotine that are coming in through importation from places like China and the
like, like the disposable vapes, some of them which are harmful. Other than that, we see
a lot of, we see a lot of hassle when it comes to disseminating this information because
some of the people we talk to are not really receptive because they feel like they will
be contravening the law, because the law itself is not supporting THR as it is.
Do you think tobacco harm reduction is a good tool to reduce deaths and harm from disease?
Yes, I do. Yes, I absolutely do. In my experience with THR, I've learned quite a lot. And I've
come to the conclusion and the understanding that it is the right resource, the right tool,
the right paradigm shift from cigarette smoking. It presents a promise that is life. We look
at, we look at the information that is readily available that states that electronic cigarettes
are 95% safer than cigarette, than combustible cigarettes. This is not a lie. It's a proven
fact. In fact, it is proven by the very fact that as of 2021, there were 82 million recorded
vapes globally. The number will not be increasing if not for the fact that people in the current
century are more wellness and health oriented. Hence, people have actually realized these
benefits even without some government interventions, and they're making the switch. So yes, I support
THR and the promise it presents. Can you tell us more about THR projects you
are running in Uganda? My project is called THR Uganda Information
and Dissemination Project. It revolves around an establishment of an organization, a THR
centered organization that is going to, that is essentially about information dissemination.
We are focused on educating the masses. We believe that once people are educated, educated,
educated, then people will organically come up and speak for themselves and get the government
and the policy makers as well as the stakeholders listening. Because if people are not educated
on the various options that they have, because in Uganda as it is, the smokers will not know.
Many of the smokers prior to our project did not know that they had the chance at life.
They did not have information of safe nicotine products, or even so low risk nicotine products
other than the pharmaceutical products that are available on the market that are less
desirable. And in us engaging the various communities, including the communities of
smokers, we've come to realize that actually the more information you give them, the more
empowered they are, the more they are able to go and face even some of their community
leaders at the grassroots level. So there are these alternatives that we are getting
and all we've been informed about that are in existence, but we have not seen them on
the Ugandan market nor have we heard about what is the problem.
But then this raises a discussion and a dialogue as well as a conversation around tobacco harm
reduction and nicotine in itself, right from the grassroots level, because the people affected
are the people at the very bottom of the edge, at the very bottom of the ladder. The people
who are less educated, the people who are less privileged, yes.
What benefits could Uganda achieve if it adopted tobacco harm reduction?
Without thinking too much, Mustata has reduced deaths, reduced diseases related to cigarette
smoking. That is the biggest problem that Uganda faces right now. 10,000 deaths plus
registered annually as a result of cigarette smoking and related matters and diseases.
So there are several challenges that come as a result of cigarette smoking. Yes, there
is the health challenges and the deaths that are as a result. So these will very quickly
be curbed and reduced drastically. We know Uganda lies in the recorded low middle income
earning countries and these are the countries that are most affected on the global scale.
It is estimated that 80% of the deaths come from these regions and the number is increasing
over time. So if Uganda is able to create avenues that are conducive for adoption of
safer nicotine, safer nicotine, or rather THR, we will see a drastic change in terms
of the deaths that are related to cigarette smoking. And even so, this burden, the very
heavy economic burden that comes upon the government to see to it that these deaths
present a very economic burden on the government. Then the government is able to switch these
funds to other fundamental matters of the economy or even so in the country. But the
health benefit of switching to, of giving an encouraging environment for THR and SNPs
is definitely a viable option. Do you think the Ugandan government supports
THR? Absolutely not. We as THR Uganda are pioneering
this fix. We have pioneered information dissemination, we have pioneered engagements at a policy
level. We have pioneered advocacy around THR, tobacco reduction. It is a whole new thing
that very few people have thought about or even so had interaction with. So yes, in terms
of how government support, no, we do not have government support. We don't have government
backing on this because the government was fully behind the establishment or rather the
enactment of the law in 2015. So many times, if you come out strongly against a law that
has already been passed by government, you look rebellious. You look like you're opposing
the government because things in Africa tend to be somewhat political. Everything, even
what, even that which is not. So that's why, like I mentioned earlier, we do not come on
as aggressive in our bid to have THR and safer nicotine or rather low risk nicotine products
are discussed. We simply engage with dialogue and understanding. We do not, we're not combative.
We're simply, we simply allow for room for discussion. So yes, over time, the government
will be reset. We will have, we believe over time the government will have, will have that,
will have that hearing, that ear and eye to see the benefits of it. But as of now, no,
we do not have that benefit of being, of being supported by government.
And the last question, Doyle, which country in the whole of Africa has the easiest access
to safer nicotine products? And how does Uganda compare?
Off the top of my head, I could think Kenya is quickly becoming one of those places. South
Africa would have been, but the latest legislations in South Africa are very detrimental to the
cause. So right now in Africa, we are facing the challenge of legislations that don't
favour SMPs or THR for that matter. And where does Uganda lie in all this? Uganda lies in
the red zone. The red zone, meaning they play one of those places where legislation is strict
and toughest. Uganda adopted a law that is a landmark law for starters. It is the one,
it is one of the most strict law, the most stringent law in relation to tobacco and electronic
cigarettes for that matter. Uganda is regarded in Africa as the centre of, it is the central
point for tobacco control for Africa as a whole. So you can imagine the kind of opposition
you'd have to face before you get, the kind of opposition rather we face before we get
people to understand the necessity of having an adoption to THR. So Uganda is not very
favouring at the moment, but we are hopeful that with continued engagement, because that's
what we do in advocacy, we continually engage, engage the community, engage the stakeholders,
engage the policymakers, engage the policy, the influencers, you know, and we do not come
out, we do not place, we do this without, we do not put negative aggression into our
cause because it has backlash, but rather we pursue dialogue continuously. We pursue
dialogue, we pursue information and knowledge exchange. So that is the angle we've taken.
Hopefully Uganda will be, hopefully in a, I'd say, in my, if you ask me to give you
a full site or rather forecast of what things will be in some time to come, I'd say in the
next, if we are very ambitious, two years, if we are not, if we are moderately ambitious,
four years, if we are slow, slowly ambitious, seven years. So yes, let me start with the
four years. In four years, I believe Uganda will come to a point where people are able
to, the country is able to positively sit down and discuss THR as a viable option for
public health and the like. So yes, that's where we are, at a place where, right now
it is not a place where you can easily access these items or rather this information, but
four years from now, on the basis of the work we're doing and the engagements we're having,
I believe the country will be in a place where these discussions will be held in higher places
because THR in itself is a concept that attracts, it is a highly intellectual concept. It's
not a matter that is light. So it attracts discussion, it attracts dialogue, it attracts
debate. And that's a good thing because intellectual debates lead to intellectual results.
Thank you, Joelle. That's all for today. Don't forget to book your place at GFN23
to join in the THR discussion yourself. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai