The Parliament of Rwanda has ratified a protocol on curbing illegal tobacco trade but equally tasked the government to find measures of further reducing its access to the market and consumption.
The Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products was adopted in Seoul, South Korea on 12 November 2012.
Rwanda approved it yesterday February 20, 2023 after the minister of health presented the benefits of Rwanda joining other countries in the war against illegal tobacco trade, but this didn’t pass without debate on why Rwanda still allows tobacco to be imported in the country.
The State Minister in the Ministry of Health, Yvan Butera said that the protocol approval comes at the time when there is a need for Rwanda to continue controlling tobacco control especially by putting in place measures to protect the non-smokers, the minors, to help smokers to quit and make awareness on health risks of smoking and so on.
On the Legal framework level, Butera explained that Rwanda is a signatory to the ratification of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which has seen the government enact the Law N° 08/2013 of 01/03/2013 relating to the control of tobacco and its implementing Orders in 2013.
He said that since WHO adopted the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products in 2012 which is part of the mentioned WHO FCTC, Rwanda is obliged to ensure implementation of its objectives.
These objectives include: Adopting and implementing effective measures to control or regulate the supply chain of goods covered by this protocol in order to prevent, deter, detect, investigate and prosecute illicit trade in such goods
To take any necessary measures in accordance with the national law to increase the effectiveness of the competent authorities and services including customs and police responsible for preventing, deterring, detecting, investigating, prosecuting, and eliminating all forms of illicit trade in goods covered by this protocol;
Others are to cooperate closely with other countries in order to enhance the effectiveness of law enforcement actions to combat unlawful conduct; and raise financial resources for effective implementation of this protocol through bilateral and multilateral funding mechanisms.
“Once the Accession of Rwanda to the Protocol to eliminate illicit Trade in Tobacco Products is approved, Rwanda will go hand in hand with other member countries and will be implemented by all concerned organs,” Butera said.
Worldwide, smoking kills half of all smokers. According to the World Health Organization, more than 8 million people die each year, 7 million of them die from the effects, and 1.2 million die from the effects of passive smoking.
Butera said that the rate of smoking in Rwanda has dropped from 12.9% to 7.1% (from 2019-2020) according to new Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) research findings which is yet to be officially published.
Smoking is one of the high risk factors causing Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) increase in Rwanda and the same research puts it in the second place- that is: alcohol 41.3%, smoking 12.9% raised blood pressure 15.9% and overweight 16.2%.
With all these risks the MPs said they do not understand why the country is not completely discouraging the activities of growing and selling tobacco especially that it has fatal side effects on lives of smokers and nonsmokers equally.
MP Christine Muhongayire said that she does not understand why Rwanda is not making a decision to end activities of growing, selling tobacco and its import in the country.
Other MPs even suggested banning imports of cigarettes suggesting that if the numbers of smokers are reducing, then it is of no need to have cigarettes sold in the country as it increases more user habits.
MP Francis Karemera said that the problem is not smoking but the producers and the selling on the local market for benefit of getting taxes and asked what is being done if the risks of smoking are evident.
The State Minister responded that tighter measures are underway and following the ratification of the protocol, they will oblige the ministry of trade and commerce to change its laws on cigarette importation with potential hiking of taxes (which are already high comparatively).
Two years ago, taxes on cigarettes were increased by 130% per packet, 36% added on the import price and 18% Value Added Tax (VAT) to discourage user habits which has seen numbers of users slightly dropping.
Some of Rwanda’s efforts to curb NCDs risk factors include: Promoting monthly community exercises, high taxes on cigarettes and ban on its publicity, public sensitization and also the new move to ban alcohol consumption for children below 18yrs- and its law is expected this year.