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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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BMC secures beef market in Seychelles

Dikarabo Ramadubu

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Botswana Meat Commission (BMC) will soon start to sell its beef to the Island of Seychelles. Not only will they sell frozen raw meat, but will also send corned beef for trial in the Island.

All this is thanks to last week’s visit by President Mokgweetsi Masisi who included in his delegation executive management of the BMC, led by Chief Executive Officer, Dr Akolang Tombale.
The agreement signed between BMC and two leading Seychelles companies, will see BMC exporting at least 48 tonnes of raw beef to the island possibly from October. The names of the two companies that BMC signed an agreement with are Seychelles Trading Company which is a quasi-government organisation, and Rosebelle Company which is privately owned.

Although both have agreed to trade with each other, BMC cannot start immediately, as they have to wait for the green light from Seychelles companies who still have to apply for import permits in accordance with the law of their republic.

Speaking to The Midweek Sun, Tombale expressed gratitude that they managed to get good business in Seychelles through the assistance of President Masisi. “We are ready to export any time from now. As you know Seychelles is an island surrounded by mountains and cannot produce much if not anything. “They therefore depend much on imports even from as far as Brazil and Europe. Their economy is driven by tourism and they do not differ much with the European market in terms of the demand for beef as most tourists come from Europe and United States.”

Dr. Tombale said they agreed with the two companies that since “we are not sure about the logistics we will start by selling 24tonnes to each company per month, meaning we will be supplying the Island with a total of 48 tonnes per month. The idea is to start small and grow bigger as the people get used to our beef.” BMC has also negotiated to sell small stock meat to Seychelles and successfully negotiated for local chicken farmers to start selling their range chicken to Seychelles as well.

According to Tombale, he negotiated the deal after being approached by local chicken farmers amongst them Kgosi Mosadi Seboko of Balete, who requested that “we should try to find a market for chicken farmers as we go around the world searching for the beef market.” Tombale revealed that for a start both range chickens and small stock will not be supplied in tonnes or large quantities as they will be sold on a trial basis.

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G-west community reunion-walk a resounding success

Keletso Thobega

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Multitudes turned up for the Mosengwaketsi community walk and braai session this past Saturday in Gaborone West. The walk was held in the morning and was preceded by football games and a braai session that went on until late in the evening.

According to the event director Tshenolo Palai, the aim of the community day event was to revive community spirit and address crime and social ills. “The Mosengwaketsi community reunion will be held not only to create a platform to build unity but also address the social ill of passion killings,” he said.

Palai said that they had also invited health stakeholders for a wellness segment because they had realised that there are many health related conditions that affect the quality of people’s lives hence they had joined forces with religious organisations, the business community, neighbourhood outreach policing and other stakeholders in the area to encourage a culture of unity and create dialogue between all the parties.

He noted that they had wanted to create a relaxed environment conducive for different people to engage and strengthen their networks. He said they were also concerned with the high rate of crimes of passion in Botswana and also wanted to create a platform for both men and women to open up on issues that affect them because most people tend to be more relaxed in a social setting.

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