No matter how vague it may seem to some, having a tobacco free Botswana is Anti- Tobacco Network’s (ATN) mission to accomplish. ATN Executive Director Dr Bontle Mbongwe said the issue of tobacco is a complex one as it even touches on issues of trade, environment and development, hence the need to address it vigorously. Dr Mbongwe said comprehensive tobacco control laws are needed in order to accomplish the mission of a free tobacco Botswana. When addressing the media on Wednesday, Dr Mbongwe said ATN exists mainly to cultivate awareness and support for the enactment of these comprehensive laws. She said to win the war against tobacco it is important to strengthen the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). She further explained that with proper frameworks in place the fight will be easily won. “Effective tobacco control will reduce consumption of tobacco which should lead to lower health expenses to treat consequences of tobacco use,” said Dr Mbongwe. ATN’s efforts towards having a tobacco free Botswana will be made easier by the envisaged Tobacco Products Control Bill expected to reach Parliament in July. The Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Wellness Dr Haruna Jibril said government recognises that the use of tobacco is a health and development hazard. Dr Jibril said this is evidenced by the commitment to strengthen national tobacco control laws by repealing the Control of smoking Act 2004 to be compliant with the FCTC.
He, however, showed displeasure that in developing countries the effects of tobacco are only treated as a health matter which, though important, overlooks serious secondary impacts on social, economic and environmental consequences. “This is why the international community has agreed not only to focus on the Sustainable Development Goals 3, which addresses health and wellbeing but to incorporate the implementation of the World Health Organisation FCTC,” said Dr Jibril. In the spirit of this WHO and Partners will on 31st May 2017 commemorate World No Tobacco Day under the theme “Tobacco a threat to development”. In Botswana the commemoration that will be led by the Ministry of Health will be held in Selibe Phikwe. The theme resonates well with Dr Mbongwe’s sentiments that tobacco is a barrier to sustainable development. “People often think that tobacco is just a health issue. However, tobacco use has an immense negative impact on the three main pillars of sustainable development being environmental sustainability, economic development and social inclusion,” she charged.
The announcement of the new bill that will be taken to the July parliament session brings great hope to the ATN executive Director who says it will bring hope to their course. Dr Mbongwe however called for stakeholders to come on board and support the course. She said that limited resources and lack of funding is a major challenge to the network. She acknowledged that a lot of teaching still needs to be done to sensitise the public about the dangers of tobacco. According to Dr Mbongwe, it is disheartening that some business operators still do not know about the tobacco laws. She is however optimistic that some business owners are willing to comply with the law. Dr Mbongwe called for strict tobacco law enforcement for proper control. “Law enforcement on tobacco is still lacking so we need to educate all stakeholders, including the law enforcement officers. This is the only way we can win this fight,” she said.