BB rejects controversial new tobacco laws
Govt accused of targeting legitimate businesses
Botswana may turn into home of dangerous drugs – Molobe
Public health comes before business – ATN
Business Botswana (BB), the voice of the private sector says the new tobacco Bill that has been adopted by Parliament is a plan by government to criminalize tobacco trade in Botswana.
BB, which is against the law regrets the new tobacco law by Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW) as a bad move as it is aimed at shutting down tobacco trade that is legal in Botswana. The Tobacco Control Bill of 2021 has been tabled before parliament by the Minister of Health and Wellness (MoHW) Dr Edwin Dikoloti, and it got firm rejection from the opposition while the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) MPs gave it thump saying it’s good for guarding public health.
In an interview on Thursday, Business Botswana -Director for Public Policy, Dichaba Molobe said government is targeting to weaken the tobacco industry with draconian laws. According to him, the tobacco industry was snubbed on consultations of promulgation of the law as Business Botswana was not made part of the dialogue as it was against the legislation. “We have demanded before that there be a three (3) way debate on the law between us Ministry of Health and the Anti- Tobacco Network (ATN) but our plea has never happened because they couldn’t debate with us realistically. There are issues with this law and the two can think with their reasoning can stop tobacco business. The tobacco industry is recognized by law in this country,” said unhappy Molobe.
Furthermore, he said that the government is coming up with the regulations that it can’t enforce. Molobe cited the regulation that stipulates that the tobacco products should not be sold by any person under the age of 21 as a far-fetched dream as it would not be known who is below age or not.
“There are businesses such as tuck shops and bars that employ people not based on age and we now wonder if the now government wants the people who are below the age bracket of 21 not to work in these business or what doesn’t she wants to achieve. Powerful countries such as the United States of America (USA) tried to crack down on tobacco industry with laws like this one. We are just trying to look as the best but government is just criminalizing sale of tobacco,” he said.
According to Molobe, the regulated tobacco businesses will lose out while illicit industry gains. This, he said, it will have a negative impact on the economy as licensed tobacco firms pay taxes to the government by selling tobacco to other players in the value chain such as bars and informal sector too.
So, he said that the danger that comes with new law that seems to be anti-tobacco industry will open room for the illicit tobacco sale to rise locally as drug dealers will now also target Botswana. “The government as much as it says it wants to solve the health issues related to tobacco it is in the medium term opening up a room for severe social illness that could result in the use of the unlicensed tobacco products that will find a way in the local black market. Now cigarettes will be criminalized to be like marijuana. The BDP MPs for supporting the bill should know that they are officially killing the tobacco industry that is legal in favor of the illicit industry,” he said.
Molobe added that it has been clear during the first lockdown in April last year that the illegal tobacco products mushroomed while tobacco ban was imposed for reasons related to Covid-19.
He likened the issue of tobacco to that of alcohol saying that at the moment Kgalagadi Breweries Limited (KBL), one of the country’s highest tax payer company as well leader in job creation is suffering losses due to the ban imposed on government whereas black market gain through illicit alcohol.
The Anti- Tobacco Network (ATN) Botswana said that tobacco should be well regulated locally. In an interview on the sidelines of ATN press briefing on Tuesday, Programs Manager at ATN Botswana, Thabo Katlholo said that tobacco has adverse negative impacts on the public health.
He said that ATN Botswana previously had discussions with tobacco industry with the Botswana Confederation of Commerce and Industry (BOCCIM) before it reformed into Business Botswana.
“At the present we didn’t have any discussions with Business Botswana. Our stance is that we don’t deal with tobacco companies directly. We made it clear to Business Botswana that there is no ways business can become before public health. This law is not anti-tobacco however it is all about regulating the tobacco which somehow overwhelms the health sector,” stated Katlholo.
According to him, the argument that a provision of licensing for sale of tobacco will impedes on the informal sector traders is not the matter but the focus is to reduce burden on health sector.
“The person who trade in the street sell to one people and that person sell to other 100 people. Research has shown that at least 2000 die from using tobacco in Botswana in a year,” he added.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Dikoloti said Botswana’s economy is not heavily dependent on the sale of tobacco but said that the business of tobacco has not been well regulated locally. According to Dikoloti, it has come out that only Batswana uses more tobacco in the SADC region.
However, Business Botswana has cautioned that the level of the arguments by government and ATN Botswana will result in a negative impact on the country’s economy which is poised for a disaster.
According to the health minister, the object of the bill is to repeal and re-enact the Control of Smoking Act (Cap.65:04) to align it to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco.Government insists that the Control of Smoking Act has been found to fall short of the key provisions set by the FCTC in that; it does not address issues such as point of sale advertising as well as cross boarder advertising and it does not address packaging and labelling of tobacco products.