Modou Njai, Director of Health Promotion and Education, and other health experts has commended, but also challenged the media to redouble efforts in raising awareness about the tobacco Control Act and the New Regulations.
The Tobacco Control Regulation meant to enable effective implementation of the Tobacco Control Act was gazetted in July 2019, gives a grace period of 3 Months for the full enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act, due on October 2019.
Mr Njai expressed the need for serialisation of the Act in media publications. He also assured that Act will be reproduced into local languages, with a view to reach wider audience in raising public awareness about the Tobacco laws.
“We have a lot of work to do. We need to fight our enemy, and that is tobacco. Children under 18 years of age should not be sent by parents to buy cigarette,” he said. Adding those parents, and the public need to know that they should be 100 metres away from children, and pregnant women, when smoking; and have to be away from Bantabas, public buses, as stipulated in the Tobacco Control Act.
These remarks were made at a Press Briefing organised by Raid-The Gambia, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, and WHO at the Conference Hall of National Quality Assurance Authority (NAQAA), opposite NaNA Office along Bertil Herdin Highway in Bakau, on 6 September 2019.
The Health Promotion Director in his opening remarks of the Press briefing expressed the need for sterialisation of the Act into media publications, to enhance public understanding, while emphasizing the responsibilities of the media to inform the public about the contents of the Act.
He also emphasized among others that people smoking in the households need to know about the harmful effects caused by second hand smoking, to people around them, which the law come to address.
He assured plans to spread the message all over the country, and count on the media to play their role in public sensetisation on the Tobacco Control Law and regulation.
Mr Naji highlighted that Raid-The Gambia find it important to inform the media about the Act and the Regulation, through collaboration with the Ministry and WHO, to enable them inform the public, to know about the Laws.
He recollected that Association of Health Journalists (AOHJ) was established on 10 July 2001, describing the association as baby of the Health Ministry and WHO. He assured the Ministry’s continued support to build the capacities of the AOHJ, to enhance effective and efficient media participation in health promotion.
Njai said they want to reach the entire country, including the rural areas, youth leaders, women groups, the elderly, traditional groups, VDCs, and key actors, including Governors, among others, to sensetise them about the laws.
Sefoe Singhatey Chairman of the Press Briefing said in 17 December 2016 the Act was enacted, but enforcement were lacking because regulations were not ready by then. Adding: “Now that the regulations are ready the country is on track to implement and enforce this comprehensive Tobacco Control Act. This is why we call you (the Media) here today to brief you so that the public will be informed through you (the media), that the Tobacco Control Act has been gazetted on the 1 July 2019 , to give strategic push for the enforcement of the Tobacco Control Act .
Momodou Gassama of the World Health Organisation (WHO) commended the Health Ministry, Raid-The Gambia, the media and partners for their supports. He further expressed the need for increase media sensetisation on the law and the regulation, to protect our future generations from the harmful effects and dangers of Tobacco use.
“Some years ago we were saying 6 Million people were dying annually of cigarette smoking, but currently 8 Million are people dying annually due to cigarette smoking related illness,” he said, quoting WHO recent Report. He added that “out of the 8 Million people dying, One Million cases are as a result of second hand smoking, either by being exposed, or inhaling.
“WHO estimate has it that tobacco uses have declined worldwide from 27% to 20% percent in 2016 worldwide. But Tobacco uses are in the increasing in developing countries, and declining in the developed world. Why because there are regulations in the developed world,” he observed. He noted that “out of the 1.2 Billion Smokers in the world, 80% are in the developing countries.
“But The Gambia is moving very fast, showing to the world that something can be done, we are championing in tobacco control. We were having some laws, before the ratification of the framework convention on tobacco control in 2007. One of them was the 1998 no smoking in Public Act, a Private Member Bill authored by the then Member- Edrisa Samba Sallah . It was not fully implemented, due to challenges, but it was a decisive journey, and part of a bigger battle. It shows that we were committed to Tobacco Control.
Further commenting on the initial government efforts, Mr Gassama said In 2003 there was a Bill that prohibits Tobacco Advertisement and The Gambia was hailed, because not many countries had that. “WHO were rallying behind The Gambia, to strengthen Government efforts, because the Tobacco Industry can derail our efforts, if we don’t mind,” he said.
He expressed the need for all to uphold to our moral obligations, especially as journalists, to do our very best protect the future generations from the dangers of the increasing Tobacco usage trends.
Mr Gassama said the WHO through collaboration with the Ministry of Health and stakeholders has plan activities to sensetise the public, to meet key decision makers, including the Alkalos, youth groups, shopkeepers, key stakeholders, including governors,…
In his welcoming remarks, Lamin Sonko on behalf of Sambujang Conteh- Executive Director of Raid – The Gambia recollected that on 5 June 2005 The Gambia ratified Tobacco Control Convention. Adding that even before then there were lot of efforts by the Health Ministry, with its partners- namely – WHO and other civil society organisations, including Raid- The Gambia. He said that need assessment was conducted by the mission, which recommended for Tobacco Control Law, and Multi-sectoral Tobacco Control Coordination Mechanism. We adhered to the recommendation, and the country now have Tobacco Control Committee, and Law.
Mr Sonko recollected that “from 2013 there has been increase in Tobacco Taxation until December 2016,” Adding that since then there has been lot of efforts by the Ministry and its partners, and with support from international partners, such as Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa (CTCA) through the Ministry of Health, and African Capacity Building Foundation through Raid –The Gambia, etc towards controlling Tobacco use.
He said after the declaration of commencement for the enforcement of Tobacco Control law, key provisions in the act could not be enforced without the regulation, meant to strengthen the Act. “This led to development of regulation, which gives grace period of three Months before full implementation and enforcement,” he said.
Mr Sonko noted that the ongoing sensetisation is part of the efforts to ensure full and effective implementation of this law.
He further said there are activities plan, such as the door to door campaigns, Radio Talk Shows, public engagement with all relevant stakeholders, to raise public awareness to ensure public compliance to the laws.
The Press Briefing question and answers session was moderated by Mr Omar Badjie, Tobacco Focal Person and Program Manager- Non Communicable Disease (MOH).
Report by Madi S. Njie