Stop accepting COVID-19 donations from Tobacco Industries –Health activists tell gov’t

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PM Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda receives a donation from NRM Party: CSO's say some donations are illegal; Courtesy Photo

By Julius Muhumuza

Health activists and Civil Society organizations want government to stop accepting all donations from Tobacco companies, because the practice undermines government’s credibility to protect public health.

The activists say, the contributions from Tobacco companies towards efforts to fight COVID-19 in Uganda, are illegal and contravene sections of local and international laws.

Tobacco companies, Leaf Tobacco & commodities ltd, and meridian Tobacco Company contributed 250 million Uganda shillings to the National Covid-19 Donations Committee under the Office of the Prime Minister, to support efforts to fight the spread of coronavirus in Uganda.

This donation among many others was recognized and read out by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni during a nation address he made on Tuesday 14th April 2020.

According to Uganda Health Communication Alliance (UHCA) Executive Director, Mr. Richard Baguma says, the donation is not only illegal but tobacco products are top-most in endangering public health.

“We want government to stop accepting such donations because by accepting such donations, government is shooting itself in the foot since Tobacco smokers are among the groups worst hit by COVID-19” Baguma said.

He said, section 22 (1) (3) of the Tobacco Control Act 2015, and WHO framework Convention on Tobacco control prohibits such contributions.

Uganda National Health Consumers Organization (UNHCO) advocacy officer, Mable Kukunda says, Tobbacco companies are exploiting the COVID-19 crisis in Uganda, to illegally engage in activities that promote their brands disguised as generous donors.

She said the companies are trying to improve their corporate image by hiding behind social responsibility to the population which is against the WHO Framework convention on Tobacco control.

Section 22 (1) of the Tobbacco Control Act 2015, prohibits voluntary contributions from the tobacco industry.

Section 22 (3) of the Act says;

“A person, body or entity that contributes to or may contribute to the formulation, implementation, administration, enforcement or monitoring of public health policies on tobacco control shall not participate in, support, endorse or accept—direct or indirect financial or resource contribution or involvement in any manner in any initiative, campaign or program directly or indirectly related to tobacco control or public health, including but not limited to, youth access and education programs, public education campaigns, and other initiatives;”

According to WHO, smokers with reduced lung capacity are at great risk of serious illness, but smokers are also more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers get in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus.

Smoking products such as water pipes often involve sharing of mouth pieces and hoses, which could facilitate the transmission of COVID-19 in communal and social setting.

Tobacco use is one of the contributors to chronic weakening of the respiratory system, the system COVID-19 disease attacks.

The activists urge the Uganda government and African leaders, to mobilize to stop Tobacco Industries from exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to grow their businesses.

They also urged Ugandans to comply with Tobacco control act 2015 and follow Tobacco control regulations.

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