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Cabinet Plays ‘Konongo Kaya’ On Tobacco Bill
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General News of Saturday, 17 February 2007


Cabinet Plays ‘Konongo Kaya’ On Tobacco Bill

Over whether to ban public smoking as rate of smoking rises among JSS students

In a move that reminds one of the proverbial “konongo kaya” in Ghanaian folklore, Cabinet has failed to fulfil its constitutional job of shaping the nation’s policy on public smoking, almost a year and a half after a bill was drafted and handed over to the august body.

The Tobacco Control Bill, drafted by Ghana’s Food and Drugs Board (FDB) and a coalition of anti-smoking bodies, was handed to Cabinet through the Minister of Health, a member of Cabinet in June 2005.

But like the proverbial ‘konongo kaya’, the body mandated to determine general policy of the Government with the President, have elected to do nothing on the matter, and in the process prevented Parliament, the body mandated to legislate on the matter from doing anything even in the face of rising youth attraction to smoking.

Cabinet has chosen what instead amounts to sitting on the important public health issue; failing in the process to do anything about the bill and consequently refusing to also send the bill to Parliament for it to debate and legislate on the issue.

In other words, while Parliament has done nothing on the bill that was presented to it, it has also not sent the bill in its drafted form to the legislative house to debate it.

To date, Cabinet has also not sent back the bill to the FDB or given any indication that it has a problem with the drafted bill to the FDB, officials at the food and drugs regulatory body told journalists recently.

Without Cabinet approval, the Bill cannot go through the parliamentary process which will lead to its passage.

Though efforts to reach the Secretary to Cabinet to seek information on why it has developed amnesia on the anti-public smoking bill failed by press time yesterday, promoters of the bill, including the FDB and other anti-smoking coalitions, have stepped up action on the matter.

Among the key promoters of the bill is Professor Agyemang Badu Akosah, Director General of the Ghana Health Service, who has been beside himself with rage over the issue in the past weeks, chastising Cabinet over its failure to do anything on the matter in various radio interviews.

Interestingly, Ghana was one of the countries to append its signature to an international protocol urging the passage of laws to outlaw smoking, compelling the world to accept the bill as an international protocol.

We were the 39th country to sign the protocol and Bolivia the 40th. I did not ask that Ghana should sign for Bolivia to follow and make the protocol binding internationally after the 40th signatory, noted Badu Akosah, the nation’s leading pathologist in an interview with CITI FM.

Previous efforts to ban public smoking were frustrated with arguments that the former local cigarette producers, British American Tobacco (BAT), were among the nation’s highest tax-paying corporate institutions and that such bills were inimical to their interest.

There have been times when the national exchequer have had to collect taxes ahead of schedule from the BAT to shore up difficulties before, noted Mr Egbert Faibille, a lawyer and Editor of the Ghanaian Observer and former top staff of BAT.

But BAT have since halted cigarette production in Ghana and chosen instead to import cigarettes from other countries into Accra.

Despite this change, the Tobacco Control Bill was not before Parliament before the House went on recess last year and may not come on the agenda for the next meeting, noted an insider of the administration of Parliament who preferred not to be quoted on record because of fear of the powerful influence of the cigarette-importation and retailing groups.

Another coalition against public smoking held another forum on the public health issue to fashion out how it could compel the President and his Cabinet members to recognize public smoking as a serious health hazard and fulfil Ghana’s commitment under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control protocol the Kufuor administration signed in 2004.

Under the protocol, the 192-member states of the World Health Organisation pledged to ban advertising and sponsorships by tobacco companies and to take administrative, legislative and any other means to curb the incidence of smoking and reduce the hazards associated with smoking.

Betraying his anger and frustration recently, Professor Akosah said his critique of government’s lukewarm attitude towards the campaign to ban public smoking is based on the fact that the ban was not on smoking altogether, though if he had his own way that was what he would call for.

“We’re not saying you cannot smoke; we’re simply saying let’s ensure that you do not endanger non-smokers by smoking near them”, he indicated.

According to him, research has shown that second-hand smoking or breathing of smoking fumes by non smokers is worse on the body of non-smokers than the smokers.

He said tobacco use has an adverse impact on health, poverty, malnutrition and the overstretched health delivery system, noting that there was the urgent need for strong action to deter people from taking up smoking and to encourage existing smokers to quit smoking.

In the meantime, tobacco and use continues to be unregulated in the country with countless people, both young and old, falling victim to its harmful effects.

A recent survey, carried out by the Health Research Unit (HRU) of the Ghana Health Service noted that more Ghanaians have worries about tobacco use among the youth.

Out of 300 respondents in Accra who were interviewed, 200 expressed concern and gave reasons such as its health hazards, effect on nation’s economy, its effect on non-smokers and the fact that smoking leads to the use of hard drugs.

Mrs. Edith Wellington of HRU who gave the findings at a day’s dissemination seminar on the study on the implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in Ghana, said respondents called for a ban on smoking in indoor workplaces, tobacco and cigarette advertisement, use of any tobacco product at social events by sponsors, events sponsored by tobacco companies and give a ways of cigarette and other tobacco products to the youth.

Tobacco, which is prepared from the Nicotiana Tabacum leaf, also contains chemicals and gases like hydrogen cyanide, nitrous oxides and carbon monoxide, which are harmful to the body.

It contains nicotine, a highly addictive stimulant, which affects the central nervous system soon after absorption through the lungs, the mouth or intestine. Nicotine increases the heart rate and at the same time narrows the passages in the blood vessels, thus inhibiting free passage of blood and oxygen throughout the body.

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