BAT Botswana, part of the world’s most international tobacco group, has voiced its views regarding the controversial Tobacco Control Bill. BAT Botswana broke the silence as the bill receives mixed reactions from regulators, MPS and citizens. BAT Botswana is a member of the Business Botswana and by far the largest industry player in the country. BAT particularly raised concern about consultation and the merits of founding such a law with dire consequences for the entire value chain.
“As BAT Botswana, we are not opposed to any form of regulation for the tobacco industry. In fact, we support it,” Mdu Lokotfwako Head – Legal & External Affairs said. But Lokotfwako explains further that what they believe is “the regulation of our industry (or any for that matter) should be balanced, fair, implementable and evidence based with robust consultations across the value chain,” he said advising that “this, we believe, can only be done through an independent and impartial Regulatory Impact Assessment Study (RIA)”.
BAT’s argument on the consultation and merits of the bill coincide with similar views shares by some member of parliament this week. While the ruling Botswana Democratic Party members are endorsing the controversial Bill in majority, some members or parliament are not convinced. Opposition members are worried by the potential impact this bill will have on the industry, especially for the small businesses which sell cigarrete as a source of income. The bill has sparked all sorts of consternation amongst the public as it stands to squeeze out lower class in the industry’s value chain.
Selibe Phikwe West Member of Parliament Dithapelo Keorapetse who is opposed to the Tobacco Control Bill said the proposed law has no basis in science. He argued that the health minister has not shared any evidence to substantiate the need for this bill. We have a law here which is extremely biased, which comes before the house without adequate consultation and this law comes under the Presidency of Masisi,” Keorapetse argued adding that it will run down legitimate business and encourage illicit cigarette trade. Keorapetse warned that the bill will encourage job losses. “It will also lead to loss of revenue especially in taxes and in SACU revenue. If this law is passed it will run down the small traders who depend on tobacco.”
Picking up the cue on Thursday on the sidelines with this publication, Dr Phenyo Butale described the bill as one of those ill-informed pieces of legislations that will only help spike illicit tobacco trade. “There is no empirical evidence that demonstrates that such laws can act as a deterrent and actually, lead to a reduction in smoking.”
Butale ponders why “we don’t have an independent and impartial Regulatory Impact Assessment Study done by the Ministry of Health across the value chain” and why government is not separating “regulation of cigarettes and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems”. Under the proposed bill, a manufacturer or seller shall not distribute or sell any smoked tobacco product unless the tobacco product is contained in a sealed unit packet of at least 20 sticks. In other words, cigarrete will be sold in a pack of atleast 20 stick not a single stick as was norm. Manufactures who violate this provision may see their license revoked or suspended for three years. A seller other than a manufacturer is liable to P10 000 fine, a year imprisonment or both.
While the bill is being put before MPs for consideration, Butale also argued that there has been lack of consultation on the proposed Bill. “Why only talk to Anti-Tobacco Network and not Business Botswana that represents Informal Sector who sell cigarettes for a living?” he quizzed.
Anti-Tobacco Network which has been working closely with the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), has endorsed the Tobacco Control Bill. “Smoking is one of the largest contributors to preventable deaths in Botswana and is known to increase the risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and many other illnesses. Apart from medical reasons tobacco has a huge effect on the country’s economy. It poses enormous health- and non-health-related costs to the affected individuals, employers, and the society at large,” said Professor Bontle Mbongwe the founder of Anti-Tobacco Network at a function which excluded Business Botswana this week.
While proponents of this bill say it demands a reduction of measures concerning tobacco dependence and cessation, Illicit trade in tobacco products; sales to and by minors, Business Botswana’s position is that the bill focuses mainly on legal traders of tobacco and not on the black market of tobacco. While Business Botswana is not against regulation, the voice of the private sector has made several attempts to engage with government in the process of developing the law in vain, it says.
Business Botswana is perturbed by insertion of a clause that bars a public body from supporting, endorsing or accepting any proposals, drafts or offers of assistance with development or implementation of any tobacco control policies.
It argues that while the government says it is trying to tackle smuggling, the bill seems targeted at industry players who operate by the book and employ thousands of people. Key points of the bill include banning of smoking sections of hotels which are among the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19 when government moved imposed travel restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. Business Botswana’s position is that such a law will harm hotels more by dragging their sales down.
Another clause aims to compel packaging of smoke packs to include pictures depicting dangers of smoking. Business Botswana says this will drive up production costs that will consequently be passed on to the consumer. It argues that this may give rise to illegal trading on the black market, resulting losses to the government in reduced taxes as illegal alcohol trading.
BURS revealed that tobacco levy fell from P11.6 million in March 2020 to P1.9 million April 2020. The bill also proposes that anyone selling tobacco products should have a permit solely for that market. Cigarettes are currently sold under licences of general trading. It is feared that the bill will increase bureaucracy and squeeze out small businesses that may fail to maintain their licences.