Chekumo and C3T staff presenting results of study to the media
By Nformi Sonde Kinsai
Ever since the transmission in 2011 of the national tobacco control draft bill to the Presidency of the Republic by the Prime Minister’s Office, the whereabouts of the document are unknown to tobacco control stakeholders.
After working on the draft bill for a long, members of a special inter-ministerial committee that was set up to submit their proposed draft to the PM’s Office sent it for vetting and eventual tabling at the National Assembly for debate, adoption and promulgation into law by the President of the Republic.
The missing draft bill has triggered worries in the ranks of tobacco control advocates who are now rightly or wrongly pointing accusing fingers at the tobacco industry reputed for interfering in national tobacco control policies of states.
This worry is one of the reasons that orchestrated a study by the Cameroon Coalition for Tobacco Control, C3T on the interference of the tobacco industry in tobacco control and public health policies in Cameroon. The study was eased by the African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA), the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research and the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC).
The launching of the “Tobacco Industry Interference Index Report” on Cameroon was the substance of a press conference organised by C3T at the Solomon Tandeng Muna Foundation in Yaounde on November 16, 2023. The speaker at the event moderated by the Communication Officer of C3T, Prince Mpondo, was the institution’s Executive Secretary, Judith Noёl Chekumo.
Chekumo told the media that the meeting was part of a global and African initiative to evaluate measures to protect tobacco control policies against tobacco industry interference. She said last May marked the 20th anniversary of the entry into force of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC. She said while taking stock of the milestones, it was also important to evaluate the situation of Cameroon 17 years after the country ratified the convention.
In startling revelations, Chekumo said the national tobacco control draft bill transmitted to the Presidency of the Republic in 2011 is yet to reach the National Assembly for adoption and eventual promulgation into law. In addition, the preliminary draft decree on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship has yet to be adopted ever since its development and validation by members of the National Advertising Council in 2015.
In regards to graphic health warnings on tobacco packages, the C3T Executive Secretary mentioned the joint order of the Ministers of Public Health and that of Trade adopted on January 3, 2018, which became enforceable from June 12, 2019. Chekumo said the 3rd phase of the rotation of health warnings was sealed following a rotation decision drawn up by the tobacco control inter-ministerial committee in March 2022 transmitted to the Ministry of Health and expected to be out in September of the same.
Unfortunately, it is still being awaited even though the 3rd series of images was to go operational in June 2022. Thus Cameroon continues to circulate a 51-month-old image meanwhile, evidence shows that after 24 months of exposure, an image no longer affects the smoker.
On the other hand, the protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products ratified by Cameroon in July 2020 is yet to see the ratification instruments transmitted to the United Nations to finalise the ratification process.
Against the backdrop of all the hurdles, C3T embarked on the study whose index measures how governments are responding to tobacco industry interference and protecting public health policies from commercial and invested interests of the tobacco industry as required by article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC ratified by Cameroon in October 2006.
Chekumo appealed to media practitioners to join the train in protecting the health of the population through reports that could stop tobacco industry interference in tobacco control and health policies.
“According to the index report, Cameroon has the highest tobacco industry interference scoring 81 out of 100 thus recording the worst performance. This score places Cameroon last out of 18 African countries and 84th out of 90 countries worldwide covered by the 2023 index. In Central Africa, Cameroon still occupies the last place, far behind Chad and Gabon, ranked 17th and 32nd respectively,” she told the press.
While presenting what article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC says, Chekumo said the index used seven indicators to measure the degree of tobacco industry interference notably through tobacco industry participation in policy development. It came out that the tobacco industry persuaded authorities to adopt their deadlines concerning regulation on pictorial warning labels and rotation of such images. The Agency for Standards and Quality, ANOR; tobacco control committee is reportedly chaired by a tobacco industry representative with working materials provided by the same representative in addition to financial support.
“The regulation of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship as spelt out in article 13 of the FCTC was also influenced by the tobacco industry. After the failure of the draft text proposed to the government by the industry, which was contrary to the provisions of the FCTC, the process of adopting the text of application of the 2006 law governing advertising in Cameroon has stagnated for 17 years. The new text developed at the initiative of the Cameroon Coalition for Tobacco Control with other stakeholders has not been adopted,” the study reveals.
Concerning tobacco industry Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, under the guise of the COVID-19 pandemic, a tobacco production company Vinataba Oriental Cameroon provided financial support of FCFA 10 million to the Ministry of Public Health on April 14, 2020. Visits of administrative authorities to tobacco production companies are also highlighted in the report.
Benefits according to the tobacco industry, unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry, transparency when dealing with the tobacco industry, tobacco industry conflicts of interest, and preventive measures taken by governments to protect their public health policies from tobacco industry interference are part of the indicators.
The Index proposes several recommendations for governments including: updating and pushing for the adoption of the Cameroon tobacco control bill; Denormalising and banning ‘socially responsible’ activities by the tobacco industry; Stopping Tobacco Industry Interference through the implementation of the provisions of Article 5.3 of the FCTC and its guidelines; and Maintaining a strong stance against tobacco industry interference and stopping granting them preferential treatment in the implementation of graphic health warnings.
Others are: building the capacity of tobacco control stakeholders, particularly Ministry of Public Health Staff and the members of the Tobacco Control Inter-ministerial Committee; generating evidence for knowledge transfer; promoting economically viable alternative livelihoods to tobacco farming; adopting a code of conduct for interacting with the tobacco industry; and banning the sale of single sticks and duty-free tobacco products, amongst other measures.