THE Zambia Tobacco Control Consortium has called for the revocation of incentives to tobacco companies operating in the Lusaka South Multi Facility Economic Zone (LSMFEZ) as it falls against the World Health Organisation (WHO) Treaty that Zambia remains a signatory to.

And the Consortium has called for the speedy enactment of the Tobacco Products and Nicotine Products Control Bill of 2018, which has been on the agenda for the last 12 years.

Speaking to journalists in Lusaka, Consortium secretary Muyunda Ililonga observed that incentivising tobacco production companies showed a lack of consistency within government as the Ministry of Health was pushing for the enactment of the Bill, while the Agriculture and Commerce Ministries were pushing for increased tobacco production in the country.

Zambia has been a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Treaty, an evidence-based Treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health, since May 23, 2008.

“There is the issue of inconsistency where the Ministry of Health is advocating for the Tobacco Control law and the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce are promoting the development of tobacco companies, we strongly condemn that. We must have an all-government approach. When this government signed the FCTC, it was not the Ministry of Health alone, it was the whole government. So, we expect the Ministry of Commerce, Agriculture to support what their government signed because, you see, when you sign an international treaty, you actually undertake to the whole world that we are going to do everything that this Treaty has. But when you come home, you start abrogating the Treaty by giving tobacco companies incentives to trade in the multi-facility zone. That is wrong, we condemn government’s move to allow British American Tobacco (BAT) and Roland Tobacco to have incentives to have their factories in the MFEZ, that is wrong! Government must address that issue because it shows that government is not consistent. What they went to pledge on the international platform is not what is happening here. We are very aggrieved, as tobacco control advocacy groups, that despite what government knows and what they have signed, they are doing the opposite,” Ililonga said.

“So, we want the law signed, we want the government to stop any kind of incentives to the tobacco companies. So, if anything those tobacco companies that are already in the MFEZ, they must remove the incentives from them so that we do not promote a product that is killing the majority of the people.”

And he bemoaned the protracted delay in enacting the Tobacco Control Bill, which he said had life-saving properties.

“We cannot talk about developing a law for 12 years, this so where we have reached now. We think that there has just been too much delay in enacting this law. We have been talking about the same law for 12 years now, and the law has not even yet reached the Ministry of Justice for draft. So, we think that government must double up the effort to ensure that the law is passed. It’s a life-saving law, tobacco is a killer and we must not take this very lightly,” he said.

“I think let’s use the COVID period as a learning lesson, or a teachable moment because it’s a respiratory epidemic and any product that affects your respiratory organs just quickens your death! Part of that money being donated for COVID could be used for education to tell the smokers to stop smoking because I have not heard any money from what has been donated going towards tobacco control, especially that there is second-hand smoke where innocent people are actually affected by the behaviour of smokers. So, government should not delay in developing this law.”

Meanwhile, Ililonga bemoaned the poor implementation of laws that prohibited smoking in public places as it put the population at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You see the Statutory Instrument Number 63 of 1992, Statutory Instrument Number 39 of 2008, the Public Health Act Cap 295 of the laws of Zambia, Section 67, all these prohibit smoking in public places and all local authorities have got inspectors that are supposed to implement this law. We have been sleeping, the implementation is very poor so we want the Ministry of Health to up the implementation, particularly this time of COVID-19 to ensure that these laws that are already on paper are enforced otherwise there is no point advocating for another law when what you have already is not enforced,” said Ililonga.