20 July 2017, Banjul | Today marks two important milestones in tobacco control in the Gambia – the official launch by the Honorable of Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Hon. Saffie Lowe-Ceesay, of the National Tobacco Control Act 2016 and presentation by the WHO Country Representative a.i., Prof. Jean-Marie Dangou, of the World No-Tobacco Day Award 2017 to the respective winners –The Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs and the National Assembly. Cabinet Ministers, Parliamentarians, Permanent Secretaries and other Senior Government Officials, the United Nations System, Regional Governors, District Chiefs, Civil Society Groups and Professional Organizations were among the hundreds of people that attended the event in Banjul.
The occasion is indeed historic and a few lessons can be drawn from it: The national tobacco control act 2016, a comprehensive FCTC-compliant legislation, is the first of its kind in the Gambia which was developed through broad-based participation and strategic partnership between health and other sectors under the technical leadership and guidance of the WHO from its very initiation right through to enactment. This is acknowledged by the Hon. Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Mr. Saffie Lowe-Ceesay, in her brief statement at the launch, singling out WHO’s leadership and catalytic role in this great achievement. The Speaker of the National Assembly, represented by the Minority Leader, also echoed similar sentiments and thanked WHO for its support to the Gambia in the tobacco control as he received the award from the WR, Prof. Dangou.
The second lesson is the political commitment attached to tobacco control demonstrated by six Cabinet Ministers attending the function –health, environment and climate change, water resources, foreign affairs, agriculture and finance – as well as regional and district authorities. This political commitment was further uplifted by the Honorable Health Minister openly declaring a three-month grace period, before full scale implementation of the Act, beginning from very day of the launch to allow sufficient time for public sensitization and stakeholder engagement in support of the Act.
The third lesson, which is a byproduct of the very political commitment reiterated above, is the multi-sectoral action the Gambia, with the support and guidance of the WHO, initiated since 2012 to control the growing tobacco epidemic in the country. Through this multi-sectoral platform and with guidance from the WHO, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, one of the recipients of this year’s highest world no-tobacco award (Director General Award), was able to successfully implement a three-year tobacco taxation policy between 2013 and 2015 which is now being replicated in 2017 – 2019. The Hon. Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Hon. Amadou Sanneh, in receiving the Award admitted that this policy shift has been “a win-win outcome for Government in that import volumes of tobacco products declined significantly whilst revenues grew exponentially from 2012 to 2016.”
In the Gambia, from 2012 to 2016, import volumes of tobacco products declined from 1.12 million kilograms to 0.44 million kilograms; about 60 per cent drop in import volumes, during the same period revenues increased from D155.32 million to D420.06 million, a nominal growth rate of 170% over the period respectively. During this period, the government through the Ministry of Finance witnessed the changing of the excise tax base on cigarettes from dalasi per kilogram to dalasi per pack of cigarette (20 sticks), and harmonized the excise tax and environmental tax between cigarettes and other tobacco products to counter the shifting of smokers.
Indeed, these achievements have caught the eyes of the WHO/AFRO. The Regional Director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, has commended the Gambia for this great achievement in a special message of tribute dedicated to this event, and also thanked the Gambia for demonstrating strong leadership and political commitment for tobacco control, translated into the enactment of the tobacco control act 2016 and implementation of a prudent, cost-effective tobacco taxation policy in line with provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The WHO Country Representative, in presenting the awards to the two winners, also paid tribute to the Gambia for being a pace-setter for tobacco control in the African Region and beyond, and in particular, the National Assembly and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs for being among the global tobacco control champions for 2017. Prof. Dangou also commended the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare for establishing a multi-sectoral platform, which comprises various government ministries and departments and the civil society, for tobacco and NCD prevention and control in the Gambia. “This is another success story the Gambia can be proud of as many countries in the African Region are struggling to establish such a vibrant structure”, Prof Dangou remarked.
The fourth lesson is the fact WHO different levels has worked consistently as one entity in supporting The Gambia achieve what has been described above as well as other achievements registered in tobacco in the recent past, which include but not restricted to the following: (i) the development of two tobacco control legislations – Prohibition of smoking (public places) act of 1998 and prohibition of tobacco advertisement bill 2003; (ii) the production of a network of tobacco control champions, winning the prestigious world no-tobacco day award 9 times between 2000 and 2017; (iii) WHO GYTS survey in 2008, which is in the process of being replicated in 2017; (iv) the ratification by the Gambia in 2007 of the WHO FCTC; (v) the establishment of an NGO platform for the implementation of WHO FCTC in 2011; (vi) a needs Assessment on the implementation of the WHO FCTC conducted in 2012; (vii) the establishment of a technical working group to monitor the tobacco industry interference with public policy and a multi-sectoral working group for tobacco and NCD prevention and control in 2012; (viii) the development of a national tobacco control policy, a strategy and an action plan for 2013-2018; (ix) capacity building in tobacco taxation in 2012 and 2013; (x) the enactment of tobacco legislation - Tobacco Control Act 2016; (xi) the development of tobacco cessation clinical guidelines followed by capacity building for implementation in 2016 and; (xii) the ratification of the Protocol on Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products in 2016.