The Director of the Non-communicable Unit of the Ministry of Health has told the National Assembly Committee on Health that despite tobacco being a major contributor to the 34 per cent of non-communicable disease deaths in The Gambia, no budget is allocated to the National Tobacco Control Committee, which thrives on the saving grace of private donors.
Director Omar Badjie says implementation of the tobacco laws remains a challenge in The Gambia. He made this statement on Friday 28 April at a sensitization workshop organised by the Tobacco Control Committee and RAID The Gambia. The workshop aimed at increasing knowledge of the damage tobacco use is causing in the country and the challenges facing domestic financing of tobacco control intervention, tobacco control levy, and multi-sector collaboration.
The workshop was held to have edifying interaction with parliamentarians to know the constraints of the tobacco control committee on control and implementation of the tobacco law.
Most of the new lawmakers were discovered to be unaware of or know very little about the existence of the tobacco control committee. To create more awareness and understanding about the Committee, Sambujang Conteh, the director of RAID The Gambia, said his institution has funding for sensitization of the new lawmakers, adding that they intend to hold more sensitization workshops or seminars.
Honorable Sulayman Saho, member for Badibu Central, who also serves as member of the National Assembly Committee on Health, urges for private member bills on tobacco, while appealing to members to change the narrative by speaking more about the evils of tobacco or smoking on political platforms and radio talk shows.
Honorable Kalipha Mbaye, Deputy Clerk of the Gambia National Assembly, told the gathering that in other parts of the world, some countries have Special Assembly Committees mandated with the task and role of finding out how the law is enacted and its impact on the life of the people.
Speaking further, Hon. Mbaye says because the Gambia has not enacted a special committee mandated with the task to monitor the impact of the already enacted laws, most of the monitoring of existing laws is done by a private organization.
However, he thanked and welcomed the “goodwill gesture” from the Tobacco Control Committee and RAID The Gambia to enlighten them about the impacts and challenges of the Tobacco Control Law enacted by the National Assembly.
“You legislate but should not fold hands and say it’s the Executive that implements the law,” he advises. “Yes it is indeed the executive that implement the law but the assembly also has the role of scrutinizing how the law is impacting society, whether there is a loophole in the law that needs an amendment or there is need to scrap the entire law because it’s of no use – this is called post-legislative scrutiny.”
He said further: “It is our belief that this engagement by the Ministry of Health sensitizing the assembly committee on the Tobacco Act is indeed timely and completing the Assembly post-legislative scrutiny role because it is through this sensitization that the assembly will know how the Act that they have passed is impacting the society and if there is any gap that needs amendment or there is some process of the law that has no needs to society.”
Clerk Mbaye, for his part, thanked the tobacco control committee for coming to the aid of the Assembly committee to engage them in their post-legislative role.
Health Promotion Expert of the World Health Organization (WHO), Momodou Gassama, says they are dealing with a very resourceful industry that has high political means to influence policies.
According to Mr Gassama, no one would be selling a harmful product that kills and the person goes about telling people about the danger associated with what they have.
According to Mr Gassama, a leading owner of one of the biggest tobacco companies, Philip Morris, has said he is not a smoker.