UGANDA—Uganda has stepped up efforts to protect citizens from tobacco harm  as new tobacco products such as shisha emerges. 

Uganda ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in June 2007 in an effort to safeguard present and future generations from the harmful effects of tobacco.

The country later implemented the Tobacco Control Act in 2015, which permitted Article 12 of the law to prohibit smoking in public places, workplaces, and modes of public transportation, thereby safeguarding second-hand smokers.

However, enforcing the smoke-free article presents various obstacles, including the rising availability of new tobacco products such as shisha.

Secondhand smoke is an issue in Uganda, and young people are especially vulnerable, with 19.7% (about 1.7 million) exposed to tobacco smoke at home and 30% (2.7 million) exposed in enclosed public spaces.

Between 2022 and 2023, WHO assisted the Ministry of Health in training 157 law enforcement officials and 15 national trainers from five regions to provide enforcers with skills and expertise, as well as to raise awareness of the ban on smoking in public places in order to ensure compliance.

Following the training, enforcement efforts were carried out in the target cities of Mbale, Jinja, Hoima, Masaka, and Kabale.

Tobacco is a major cause of cardiovascular illness, premature mortality, and disability globally, and shisha, a flavoured tobacco product, is more deadly than cigarettes, according to Dr Yonas Tegegn Woldemariam, WHO Representative in Uganda.

He went on to say that smoking shisha for 40 minutes is equivalent to smoking 100 cigarettes, and that it is a health risk that requires immediate response.

Ms. Christine Ahimbisibwe, Program Officer, Mental Health Division at the Ministry of Health, highlighted that, in addition to the 2015 Tobacco Control Act, which prohibits public smoking, the legislation also prohibits the importation and consumption of shisha in the country.

The Ministry of Health, with financial support from WHO and in collaboration with district health officials, police, and the media, conducted 5-day enforcement activities in 86 public places within the five targeted regions in December 2023, destroying confiscated shisha pots and arresting 83 offenders, she said.

The implementation of the smoke-free legislation in the specified cities raised awareness and served as a warning to smokers in public areas across the country.

Dr. Hafisa Kasule, WHO technical officer for noncommunicable diseases, concluded by stating that WHO will continue to support the government’s enforcement efforts to guarantee complete compliance with the tobacco control law and safeguard the population from secondhand smoking.

He went on to suggest that there should be immediate effort to help the country transition tobacco producers to alternate crops.

Every year, tobacco kills more than 8 million people, including an estimated 1.3 million nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Approximately 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco consumers are in low- and middle-income countries.

In 2020, 22.3% of the world’s population consumed tobacco, including 36.7% of males and 7.8% of women.

To confront the tobacco pandemic, WHO Member States approved the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2003, and 182 nations are currently Parties to the treaty.

The WHO MPOWER measures are consistent with the WHO FCTC and have been proved to save lives and decrease costs through avoided healthcare spending. 

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