UNHCO to petition Court of Appeal over BAT suit against Tobacco Control Regulations

UNHCO ED Robinah Kaitiritimba (R) speaking with her lawyers at High Court on Tuesday; Sabasaba Photo

The High Court has given green light to Civil Society, Uganda National Health Consumer’s Organization (UNHCO), to be joined in a suit filed by British American Tobacco (BAT), challenging Ministry of Health regulations for the tobacco industry.

High Court Civil Division judge, Justice Esther Mbayo, today allowed UNHCO to petition the Court of Appeal, to challenge her earlier ruling in which she had rejected their application to be party to the suit.

UNHCO had filed an application in the High Court to be joined as a co-respondent BAT’s application challenging Tobacco Control regulations, which it claim are unfair to the tobacco industry.  However, the judge declined UNHCO’s plea saying the matter can be ably defended by the Attorney General, prompting the appeal.

On 15 January 2020 BAT filed a case to High Court civil division challenging Tobacco control regulations which were issued by the Ministry of Health and were supposed to enter into force on 1st February 2020.

In her ruling today, the judge allowed the application for the appeal but also okayed stay of hearing of the main application filed by BAT, until court pronounces itself on whether UNHCO should be party to the case.

The judge also granted extension of the order by BAT to stop implementation of some provisions of the Tobacco Control regulations until the 30th September 2020 when both parties return to court over the matter.

The regulations in question cover packaging of tobacco products including health warnings on cigarette packs, dimensions of graphic images on tobacco packs which are intended to inform the user about the dangers associated with tobacco consumption.

Uganda national health consumer’s organization Executive Director, Robinah Kaitiritimba says, BAT fears the involvement of Civil Society groups because UNHCO won’t only focus on legal terms but will also seek attention of court to the negative impact of Tobacco industry to public health.

According to Kaitiritimba, the negative impacts of the tobacco industry include recruitment of the children in tobacco smoking and the profit motive of the industry which have both negative social and economic effects to the population.

She says that UNHCO’s efforts to push for the enforcement of tobacco control regulations were partly interrupted by COVID-19 pandemic but since court has allowed them to appeal, the process will be expeditiously handled to expose the Tobacco industry which she claims is aiding suffering and deaths due to tobacco related illnesses.

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