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Campaign to ban illicit tobacco gains traction

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In this case the evidence is before our eyes. The dominant street vendors and sellers of single tobacco sticks or cigarettes all around Botswana are the most economically vulnerable in the community, women and unfortunately the children particularly young girls down to the age of 16-years.

These women and children are at the tail end of the Tobacco Industry which includes Manufacturers, Distributers and Wholesalers. Despite this, street vendors are reported to sell more volumes of cigarettes compared to Wholesalers.

Their competitive advantage being that they sell single cigarettes (or Mezanga in street lingo). A quick look around the regular street vending places such as the outside of clinics, hospitals and schools, shopping malls, tuck shops (semausu), bus ranks and road side taxi and kombi spots shows the packages of cigarettes (at times illegal cigarettes) lying on the small and sometimes makeshift tables.

The cigarettes are placed in the midst of the rest of the sellable ware including biscuits, sweets, oranges, apples, bananas, peanuts and chewing gums.  You need to take a closer look to spot the cigarette packages, almost as if they are being disguised or enveloped by the confectionary; or possibly that the seller is conscious of the fact that they are in the wrong.

Small talk with the Gaborone street vendors indicates that they are selling the cigarettes under the guise of ‘Poverty Eradication’ as do the Sex-workers. What else should they do to feed their families they throw back? What about the dangerous effect of smoking on the children they sell cigarettes to? Their main concern is today, not the future.

Single cigarettes are readily accessible and the smaller quantity means they are also more affordable compared to the full packet, giving potential customers like school-going children leverage to purchase. Advocates such as the Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana, Cancer Association of Botswana, Stop Smoking Support Group and the Ministry of Health’s Tobacco Control Unit have launched a campaign against this sale of single sticks of cigarettes.

Their main argument is that, single cigarettes make it easier for customers like school-going children to afford the lethal habit. Even the manufactures agree or have been coerced to place the warning on all cigarette packets that ‘Smoking is bad for your health’. The immediate repercussions of the sale of these single cigarettes are already tangible.

“Girls are now smoking more than boys. Young girls are really taking to smoking like it’s some kind of fashion trend. School kids are smoking a lot now. It’s a real crisis,” observes and cautions Onkemetse Ramato, the Health Officer from the Tobacco Control Unit at Ministry of Health.    

Ramato was speaking at the recent talks centered on the ‘Botswana Implementation Strategy for Protocol to Eliminate Trade on Illicit Tobacco Products’. The main attendees on 16th December 2015 were representatives from NGO’s and government sectors all aiming to eliminate trade on tobacco products; with voices raised from Ministry of Health, World Bank, World Health Organisation (WHO), BOSASNet and the Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana.

The second session involved the regulatory bodies such as the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS), Ministry of Trade, Ministry of Agriculture and Office of the President.

Back in 2013/2014 an intense anti-illicit tobacco campaign was publicised with the feedback and reports aired on national television, radio and newspapers. Images of major tobacco related raids by authorities in houses, shops and streets were shown. This current concerted, aggressive and collective approach to eliminate the sale of illicit tobacco and its products is still justified if you talk to Dr. Malebogo Pusoentsi from the Ministry of Health.

She is of the opinion that in the long run, if unmonitored the effect of tobacco on users and the community will cost the nation millions of Pula. “Investment in control of Nicotine will go a long way. As a country we stand to gain in terms of the Pula benefit,” advises Dr. Pusoentsi. The doctor is of the view that if the community is aware of the ‘badness of the smoking habit’ they will also help to control its use. “Sniffing tobacco is not better. There is no safe use of Tobacco,” cautions the good doctor.

Nicotine alone causes a barrage of non-communicable diseases such as Heart disease, Cancer, Diabetes and Chronic Respiratory diseases. Dr. H. Jibril, the Deputy PS at the Ministry of Health reiterated the obvious that, “By 2020, the WHO projects that deaths caused by NCD in Africa, which contribute to poverty, burden health systems and impede the overall development, will outnumber the deaths from communicable, maternal, prenatal, and nutritional diseases.”

In view of this global challenge Botswana is said to have been one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2003 and 2005 respectively. “Botswana automatically became a Party to this important public health treaty,” added Dr. Jibril.

Dr. Pusoentsi explains that strategies should include public awareness of the danger of smoking and a price increase for tobacco products. Currently one cigarette sells for P2.50 to P3.00 and a packet of 10 cigarettes sticks is around P18 – P25. A packet of 20 cigarettes costs in the range of P30.00.

The contraband cigarettes from Zimbabwe are said to cost P10 for a packet of 20 cigarettes. “Crushed contraband cigarettes from Zimbabwe are sold in bulk. On the streets the crushed cigarettes cost P4.00 for a 250ml cup, or P100 for a 20 litre bucket,” shares Thabo Katholo of the Anti-Tobacco Network Botswana.

Katholo explains that this smuggled Tobacco “Is cheaper and more hazardous.” Katholo also explains that women and girls in rural and peri-urban centres are at higher risk of being targeted to sell illicit tobacco.  

In Botswana the Tobacco Industry consists of one cigarette manufacturer and one cigarette distributer and numerous wholesalers. Although it is nowhere near scaling the heights of the international cigarette industry, Katholo explains that the Tobacco Industry is very vigorous in Botswana. “The Ministry of Agriculture is currently in a joint venture with Japan Tobacco Inc,” explains Katholo.  

At the end of the conference one of the conclusions was that the only way to outsmart the Tobacco industry is via information. How much volumes of cigarettes entered legally? How much levy was paid? How many cigarettes were confiscated and destroyed? The use of latest technologies including Apps to, ‘track and trace’ the use of Tobacco.

In Botswana, the levy on Tobacco and Tobacco Products was effective as of February 2014. The new Tobacco Control Bill is pending parliament approval; the expectation is that it will be effective as of July 2016.

A consultant from the World Bank, Alberto Gonima further cemented how tricky it will be to curb this illicit trade of tobacco. Once you introduce the tax or levies there will be more temptation to bring in illicit tobacco products.

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FREE AT LAST: LGBTI persons celebrate

Yvonne Mooka

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CELEBRATION TIME: The LGBT community celebrated the historic ruling on same sex romance this Tuesday

Thapelo Matshameko, a transgender woman who last year was attacked at Trekkers night club in Gaborone is over the moon about the High Court ruling that overturned a law that criminalised same sex relations.

A trans-woman is a woman who was assigned male at birth. In response to the ruling, she told The Midweek Sun that even though she has had it tough before with people calling her ‘Brazen’ and to stop behaving like a woman, she is now happy that the law recognises that they exist. She said that Batswana are now becoming tolerant towards Lesbians Gays Bisexual Transgender and Intersex persons.

“Recently I went out for dinner with my bae, and I came all the way from my house wearing a dress. People that know me loved it and my boyfriend loved it even more,” she says, adding that the verdict will also help other LGBTI persons that are in the closet to come out.

In a previous interview Metshameko pleaded for assistance from members of the public to help her do a surgery that would make her a complete woman. For Motswakgakala Sithole also known as Motswafere in music circles, the ruling shows that Botswana is one step closer to gay marriages.

“Thank you to all the visible gay people. We take punches for those hiding and those shaming us for being visible and exercising our rights. You guys attended court cases with pride and you have carried us to freedom,” he said.

He also thanked Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO), lawyers in the case, the media, and friends of the LGBTI community for their support. Phio Kenosi who identifies as trans non-binary asexual woma-romantic, (romantically attracted to the feminine essence), was also ecstatic.

“It is obviously showing that we are moving in a new direction that is positive and inclusive towards sexual and gender minority,” he said.

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Wame – a little einstein in the making

Irene Shone

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LITTLE EISTEIN: Wame Kangumbe

Wame Petit Kangumbe, 12, is an Optometrist in the making.

Kangumbe envisions taking Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to the next level by inventing something scientific in the future.The standard 7 pupil at Ratsie Setlhako Primary School in Palapye impressed everyone during the BIUST 5th STEM Festival and Research and Innovation Symposium with her sharp answers during the fest.

The little Scientist believes that the entire country should embrace science and do more experiments, to find out more about our physical environment and shed dependency on foreign countries in terms of Science and Engineering.

Her secret to relating with different topics so well, is research and more research. “I like researching. We have Wi-Fi at home, and so I often use my mother’s phone to type different topics and interact with how everything is related. I always prepare for the next lesson through researching,” she said.

She said the poverty in Africa can only be eliminated through STEM. “If everyone could take interest in STEM, we would go further in terms of uplifting the status of our economies as African countries,” she said.

She urged her peers to believe in themselves and be serious about their education. “When you write down your notes in class, make an application of what you want out of them. Everyone’s life is in their own hands,” she advised.

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