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0:00 - Intro with Joanna Junak
1:19 - Joel Sawa on Uganda's blanket vape ban
2:40 - Shifting away from smoking
3:53 - THR Uganda's mission for vaping education
5:54 - Over 10k smoking deaths annually in Uganda
7:49 - Uganda opposes THR reform
9:31 - Kenya leading THR fight in Africa
13:05 - Closing remarks


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.

What's happening now in Uganda, where you live, in terms of used combustible cigarettes

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.

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