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Uganda should ban tobacco advertising

When I was growing up as a child in the 1980s and the 1990s, the back pages of TIME and Newsweek magazines were almost always adorned with a surreal image of a trim, middle-aged white man.

He was often riding on horse back with a cowboy hat as he puffed away on a cigarette, often in rugged terrain. He was known as the ‘Marlboro man’. We all wanted to be like the Marlboro man.

He was cool, macho and assured. I remember plastering some of my adolescent walls with the pictures of the cool ‘Marlboro man’. It was only much later that I realized that the ‘Marlboro man’ was actually a deceptive tobacco advert aimed at convincing me that smoking is cool.

To some extent, the adverts worked. They made smoking appear cool and alluring to an impressionable teenager like me at the time.

Tobacco advertising is especially targeted towards young people because of the opportunity of recruiting life-long clients, enticed through ads that associate smoking with glamour. Unsurprisingly, scientific evidence shows that children and young people are more receptive to tobacco advertising than adults.

Tobacco advertising is about making money. For instance, before the ‘Marlboro man’ was conceived in the US in 1955, tobacco sales were $5 million. In 1957, when the ‘Marlboro man’ was introduced, tobacco sales were up $20 million.

The trouble is that tobacco products are not like any other commercial product. ‘’When used exactly as intended by the manufacturer, tobacco products kill half of all their users’’ says Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, the tobacco control focal person in the ministry of Health.

Ironically, Wayne McLaren, who portrayed ‘the Marlboro man’ in print and television, did eventually succumb to lung cancer in real life, on July 22, 1992, aged 51. As the World commemorates World No Tobacco day on May 31, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has selected this year’s theme as the ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Tobacco advertising has been defined as “any commercial effort to promote tobacco consumption, including the display of trade marks, brand names and manufacturer logos, marketing of tobacco products and other methods”.

On June 24 2007, Uganda signed a global agenda to, among other things, institute a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising under a treaty called the Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control (FCTC) which has force of international law in 186 countries, including Uganda.

“In the last few months, we have seen unprecedented tobacco industry advertising in Uganda. It would seem this advertising is regulation-free. Companies have announced cigarette price increase in glossy full-page adverts’’ says John Amanya of the Uganda National Tobacco Control Association (UNTCA).

Although tobacco advertising was banned in Kenya in 2007, and in South Africa in 1999, in Uganda there is a ‘complete absence of a ban on tobacco advertising’. The tobacco industry in Uganda continues to promote and sponsor activities aimed at increasing demand for tobacco products in contravention of the ministerial directive of 1995 with no known regulatory regime to bring them to account.

There have been some gains registered as tobacco advertising is less explicit than it was in years past, for instance, there are virtually no billboards advertising tobacco products. The Uganda Tobacco Control Bill (2012) proposes to ban tobacco companies from conducting free product giveaways or sponsoring events by which the tobacco industry seeks to attract new smokers.

This bill needs to be fast-tracked before the next generation succumbs to the habit.

The writer works with Makerere University and   is a J2J Lung Health Media Fellow of the International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.


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