Legal advisors and judicial officers from Botswana, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia attended a 3-day legal capacity building workshop in Port Louis, Mauritius from 01 to 03 March 2023 to strengthen tobacco control and reduction of NCD risk factors. Mauritius was proposed to host the multi-country training workshop for legal advisors and judicial officers in government of countries in the East and Southern sub-region of Africa. The selection of Mauritius as the venue of this meeting is because its amended tobacco control law adopted in May 2022 is a legislative best practice in the WHO African Region. The country’s new tobacco control legal framework is comprehensive, and embeds plain packaging, a primer in the Region. The implementation of the law has agreed timelines and is a comparative law implementation best practice that participants will engage with and learn from to support their respective countries.
Dr the Hon K. K. Jagutpal, Mauritius Minister of Health and Wellness, during the opening of the training workshop said, “the 31st of May 2023, which happens to be the World No Tobacco Day will be of significant importance to us as Plain Packaging will be introduced in the Republic of Mauritius as from this day”.
Plain Packaging will be introduced in the Republic of Mauritius as from 1st June 2023 in order to prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand images and promotional information on tobacco packages. Instead, a standard green, brown colour, namely Pantone 448 C, will be applied coupled with the pictorial warnings.
Dr Anne Ancia, WHO Country Representative, in her address, highlighted, “this training targeting judicial officials and government legal advisors happening in Mauritius is not haphazard, it is a testimony of the very good achievements of the country in protecting the population against the deadly effects of tobacco use”.
The WHO Representative recalled that Mauritius has put in place a bold and ambitious legal framework to protect public health against the harms of tobacco and has implemented all time bound measures of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control and beyond.
“Mauritius has played a key role in the negotiation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) prior to its coming into force in 2005”, said Dr Ancia
Mauritius was among the 40 first countries to have ratified the Convention in 2004 to allow for its entry in force in February 2005. And Mauritius accession to the WHO Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products in 2018 showed once again the country determination to address tobacco in a comprehensive manner by also fighting illicit trade.
Mauritius possesses two important assets: the political will and commitment and the leadership, and these have enabled the country to successfully implement the requirements of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control and the Protocol.
The little island of the Indian Ocean has been pioneering tobacco control in the region and is expected to continue this progressive implementation of tobacco best practices. The country has a good taxation policy but still tobacco products are very much affordable. Similarly, enforcement of the ban of sale of single stick is a challenge. The country needs to continue coming up with appropriate tobacco taxation policies to reduce affordability.
With the promulgation of the new Public Health Regulations 2022 on the Restrictions on Tobacco Products, Mauritius is moving a step ahead in the control of novel tobacco products such as flavoured and smokeless tobacco, and as already mentioned, Mauritius is about to implement full plain packaging.
WHO and the Ministry of Health and Wellness have been collaborating closely to draft and finalize these new tobacco laws. WHO legal team has supported the country in this journey of the legal reform and looks forward to continuing this collaboration in the implementation and law enforcement phase.
Over 36 countries in the WHO African Region have adopted legislation and policies which are aligned to WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This is a demonstration of the high level of commitment to control tobacco in the Region. However, the level of implementation including the status of compliance and enforcement varies from country to country. Indeed, one of the main hindrances to comprehensive implementation of tobacco control laws is inadequate capacity for enforcement. Thus, the role of legal and judicial officers in governments is particularly critical for effective tobacco control and should be fully harnessed in our efforts to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases in a comprehensive manner.
Tobacco use is one of the leading risk factors for non-communicable diseases. These diseases include cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes, and chronic obstructive airway diseases. Each year, nearly 8 million people die of tobacco related illnesses and a significant part of these deaths is a result of secondhand tobacco smoke. This not only contributes to the heavy burden of diseases but also imposes huge social and economic burdens on individuals, families, communities, and nations. The NCD burden in Mauritius is of concern as it is more and more in many countries of Africa, and by addressing one risk factor, which is tobacco, the countries in the region as well as Mauritius will be able to progressively reverse the prevailing trend of NCD.
Tobacco kills! And it kills not only smokers but also non-smokers who are exposed to tobacco smoke. This is evidence-based. We have the responsibility to come up with the necessary legal framework, policies, and measures to protect the health of our population and to save lives. Tobacco-related deaths are preventable deaths.
Tobacco use is also a major hindrance to the achievement of Universal Health Coverage and the attainment of sustainable development goals. The fight against tobacco is not only a health issue but it is also a social, economic, and environmental issue. When individuals divert family income to buy tobacco products and then get sick of diseases such as cancer, their families end up spending all their resources to foot high hospital bills. When these individuals eventually die, families are left destitute after losing a breadwinner and the country loses human capacity for development. That is why WHO calls on Members States to apply a multi-sectoral approach in tobacco control as in the fight of other noncommunicable diseases.
The role of law, and the involvement of the legal, judicial and law enforcement agencies in a country is as important as public awareness campaigns about the impacts of tobacco use. Judicial officers attending this training will contribute to implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and their interpretative, advisory and use of other legal tools is pivotal for the control of tobacco and other NCD risk factors. Countries from the WHO African Region will surely continue to learn from the lead of Mauritius in maintaining and implementing best practice tobacco control measures. Participating countries will share emerging global and regional best practices on tobacco control laws and their implementation and exchange information on progress and pathways to accelerate the adoption and implementation of tobacco control laws.