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RAID briefs Journalists on tobacco industries and ECOWAS scheme

Oct 9, 2014, 11:38 AM | Article By: Isatou Senghore-Njie

Africa Network for Information and Action Against Drug (RAID)-The Gambia recently organized a press conference for journalists on the civil society reaction to tobacco industries under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) in The Gambia.

Speaking at the briefing ceremony held at the Ministry of Health conference room in Banjul, Sambujang Conteh, Director of RAID-The Gambia, said this was an important occasion to their work as tobacco control advocates.

It came to their knowledge that some of the tobacco companies are using tactics to down play their efforts in tobacco control by capitalizing on the ECOWAS protocol on trade liberalization scheme (ETLS) to import tobacco products duty-free into The Gambia, he said.

According to him, some of the tobacco companies within the ECOWAS region also want to seize this opportunity to shift their importation in other ECOWAS countries like Nigeria and Senegal, so that they can distribute their tobacco products in The Gambia duty-free.

Conteh explained that Raid-The Gambia as a civil society organization has a nationwide coverage, with regional officers in all regions of the country and district coordinators.

Raid also has more than 10,000 community volunteers across the country, and strongly recommends to the Gambia government to have a strategy to have more revenue from tobacco products.

“As a country, despite international treaties or protocols, we have all the right to come up with a strategy in other to cover the revenue loss in the form of excise tax, environment tax, processing free and health levy,” he said.

“This is our appeal to the government; to start working on strategies hence the Gambia is a tax-based economy, and they cannot afford to lose such a huge amount of money which is also going to be detrimental to the health and life of our people,” Mr Conteh stated.

He said according to statistics in a press release from the Central Bank of The Gambia on 31 January 2014, the Gambia projected GDP for 2014 GMD 33.7 billion, and looking at the total revenue collected from tobacco products in 2013, it amounted to GMD 172,745,977.41. On the other side, by looking at the total health expenditure budget in 2013, it was GMD 571,086,101 (Source: estimate of revenue and expenditure 2014).

He revealed that tobacco use is affecting the health of the nation, and it creates a big burden on the ministry of Health.

Tobacco use today is the highest cause of death in the world and, according to WHO reports, each stick of cigarette has 400 different chemicals and 60 among them are poisonous.

Omar Badjie from the ministry of Health said his ministry is doing its best to make sure that the campaign is on, adding that tobacco is seriously harmful to the body.