Ghana Flouts International Convention On Tobacco Control
Ghana must be ready to face applicable consequences as likely sanctions if it flouts international conventions it has assented to. Indications picked by Spy News Agency are to the effect that some officials of government have arranged a meeting with major players in the tobacco industry for the purposes of addressing “their concerns”.
The meeting which is said to be at the instigation of the Ministry of Trade and Industry is to be chaired by the Sector Minister, Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah. It follows a letter his office received from the British American Tobacco (BAT) company asking the government take a second look at its trade policies as it is negatively affecting the operations of the tobacco business in Ghana.
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the first health treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). It is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health. The convention also represents a paradigm shift in developing a regulatory strategy to address addictive substances; in contrast to previous drug control treaties.
The WHO FCTC was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic. It follows the realization that the spread of the tobacco epidemic is facilitated through a variety of complex factors with cross-border effects, including trade liberalization and direct foreign investment. Other factors such as global marketing, transnational tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and the international movement of contraband and counterfeit cigarettes have also contributed to the explosive increase in tobacco use.
Ghana became the 39th Party and the first country in the West African Sub-region to ratify the FCTC in 2004, haven contributed greatly to the development of the framework during the inter-governmental negotiations in Switzerland.
Article 5 (3) of the Conventions states that “in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” It requires the various parties to enact legislations that will ensure that the tobacco trade is limited to its least minimum.
Ghana has subsequently passed a Public Health Act; Act 851 with provisions for the regulation of tobacco use in the country. The Public Health Act also abhors state officials from holding any negotiations with the tobacco industry, especially when it is about protecting the interest of the tobacco industry.
It is for this reason that stakeholders have expressed worry at the impending meeting between the Ministry of Trade and Industry and British American Tobacco.
Mr. Cyril King who represented the Ministry at a stakeholders meeting last week on the development of a National Tobacco Control Strategic Plan for Ghana said the meeting is at the instigation of the Ministry and that its purpose is just to listen to their concerns.
“Our Ministry is responsible for regulating trading activities in this country. BAT has written to complain to use about certain policies the country is implementing now that is affecting their operations as a genuine business entity registered under the laws Ghana. We want to listen to them,” King stated.
He was however cautioned by the meeting to be cautious of whom they meet as well as the content of the discussion as it likely to infringe on provisions of the FCTC which Ghana has assented to, and the section six of the Public Health Act of Ghana which regulates tobacco use and trade in the country.
“Our laws are very clear on that. As signatories to the FCTC we are not supposed to seat on negotiation table with the tobacco industry,” stated Mr Labram Musah, Programmes Manager at Vision for Alternative Development (VALD) a Non-Governmental Organization championing the fight against tobacco use in Ghana.
Dr. Kyei Faried, the deputy director of the disease control department and prevention; and the focal person on Tobacco Control at the Ghana Health Service (GHS) also reiterated the caution and urged the Ministry of Trade to seek technical assistance from the GHS on such issues.