Ministers highlight tobacco industry interference as threat to tobacco control policy

At a special session, ministerial representatives from four countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) discussed the challenges, successes and lessons for others in tackling tobacco use.

The high-level panel highlighted tobacco industry interference as one of the biggest threats to tobacco control in their countries and at policy level, and expressed an urgency to champion tobacco control measure for the next generation.

Argentinian Minister of Health, Hon Adolfo Rubinstein, said: “The tobacco industry usually interferes by co-opting the legislators and trying to block any advance on tobacco control.”

Ugandan State Minister for Health, Hon Sarah Opendi Achieng, said: “The tobacco industry is very aggressive and before we made our law it was not an easy thing. Parliament had to do its thing but the industry came in to oppose this law.

“We needed to campaign for health. For example, we had to reach out to the farmers because trade is involved. We had to rally the support of the tobacco growers to get them to see the danger of smoking. But the industry was doing the same, telling them they were easy to live because they grow tobacco.

“It was not easy but because of the strong political will we had from the top and strong media support we were able to focus on the health aspects and pass a tobacco control law that is comprehensive – and it is an offence for this industry to interfere once the law is implemented, which is a provision of the law we are particularly proud of.”

Vietnamese Minister of Health, Hon Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, said: “Cigarette prices in Viet Nam are very low, and this is actually our biggest challenge. They are becoming more and more affordable in Viet Nam. The tax increase is not enough. This combined with intense tobacco industry interference makes our situation very difficult.”

Dr Svetlana Akselrod, Assistant-Director General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health, WHO, highlighted the need for strong policy, saying: “We need to implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the national law and focus on the implementation of the illicit trade protocol.”

Speaking about routes to successful policy, Senegalese Minister of African Integration, Hon Mbagnick Ndiaye said: “We've achieved a cross-sectoral approach across ministries.

“Before a law is passed it has to go through every department because it will impact them all. Before it can be voted on this has to happen - and this means we have to rally support before the law gets through to ensure the law, when passed, has the support of all departments.”

Echoing this sentiment and drawing the session to a close, Hon Sarah Opendi Achieng, said: “The one thing we must do is ensure that young people do not get drawn into smoking. For this we must have a multi-sectoral response to achieve a tobacco free generation.”

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