Every year on May 31, the world stops to reflect on the millions of lives lost to tobacco use around the world and the one billion set to lose their lives to tobacco use this century unless current trends are reversed.

Uganda already has AIDS and malaria to worry about and yet a perfectly preventable epidemic of tobacco-use associated diseases is brewing. Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death globally and is currently responsible for killing one in 10 adults worldwide. Globally, tobacco use kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and Tuberculosis combined.

This year, the World Health Organization (WHO) has selected theme of the ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Scientific studies unequivocally show that a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising has been followed by a reduction in cigarette consumption, and that children and young people are more vulnerable to deceptive tobacco advertising.

On June 24, 2007, Uganda became a signatory to the first global public health treaty in history known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) part of which commits countries to institute a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) under article 13.

Last year between June and August, I was principal investigator in a survey to investigate Uganda’s compliance with the ban on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and promotions made possible by a grant from the Geneva-based Framework Convention Alliance (FCA).

Our research team scoured four key streets in each of the survey towns of Kampala, Gulu and Mbarara, to reflect three strategic parts of Uganda, to collect data on Uganda’s compliance on the ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. As we commemorate World No Tobacco Day, it is an opportune moment to disseminate the findings of this study.

First the good news:

Our research team did not come across any billboard advertising tobacco in the streets of Kampala, Gulu and Mbarara we visited which suggests that direct tobacco advertising has reduced considerably.

And now, the not so good news:

The tobacco industry in Uganda has changed strategy from direct to indirect advertising in response to advertising restrictions. It circumvents the ban on advertising through innovative indirect forms of advertising such as ‘corporate social responsibility schemes’, product launches and promotions, branding and more recently, cigarette price increases in the print media.