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Do we need ‘lifestyle’ laws?

Currently, Parliament is scrutinizing the Tobacco Control Bill 2014.

Among other objectives, the law seeks to regulate tobacco use in public places and to discourage underage smoking. On the surface, the objectives of this bill are noble since they centre on ensuring a quality and healthy lifestyle for Ugandans.

But do we really need a new law to enforce these objectives?

This month, Parliament passed the HIV/Aids Prevention and Control Bill 2010, that criminalizes the intentional spreading of HIV/Aids, ignoring health experts who had said such a law was not very necessary. The experts were proven right last week when court, basing on relevant sections of the penal code, sentenced a nurse to three years in jail after finding her guilty of criminal negligence that could have infected a baby with HIV/Aids.

The same fate could befall the tobacco bill. It ought to be remembered that in 2004, the National Environment Management Environment (Nema) passed the National Environment (Control of Smoking in Public Places) Regulations Act. For entertainment places, the Nema regulation required them to gazette areas (for smokers) so as to protect other revellers from passive smoke.

Ten years later, how many people have been prosecuted/convicted using these regulations?

As a country, we are very good at making laws and policies, many of which are not relevant. Even worse, we are poor at enforcing them, especially those that do not threaten the political existence of the regime. Many of these laws are made in the heat of the moment or to appeal to certain populist interests of those fronting them.

Yet if we strengthened the enforcement of some of the existing laws by equipping and facilitating the relevant authorities (like the police, the IGG, the DPP) maybe many of these ‘lifestyle’ laws would not be necessary.

That way, Parliament would devote a lot of time tackling more important issues (such as improving the economic welfare of Ugandans,  assessing the delivery of health services, monitoring the education sector) than drafting a law that is not only intrusive but might never be enforced.

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