KAMPALA – The Constitutional Court threw out a petition filed by the British American Tobacco (BAT) -a company that deals in the sale and distribution of Tobacco products that had sought to some of the provisions of the Tobacco Control Act.
In 2016, BAT Uganda petitioned the Constitutional Court in Kampala challenging the Tobacco Control Act of 2015, alleging that they are in contravention and or inconsistent with the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.
According to the petition, BAT had contended that the Tobacco Control Act had the effect of unjustifiably singling out the tobacco industry for discriminative treatment and amounts to a ban on the right to trade and consume a legal product which contravenes the right to freedom from discrimination.
BAT wanted the Constitutional Court to declare that Section 15(2) of the Constitution contravenes Articles 40(2), 26 and 29(1) of the same Constitution.
However, on Tuesday, five Justices of the Constitutional Court led by the Deputy Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny -Dollo, unanimously ruled that the limitations and restrictions imposed by the Tobacco Control Act on tobacco companies are permissible and justified in a free and democratic society since Tobacco consuming kills more people worldwide than TB and HIV/AIDS.
Other justices are; Kenneth Kakuru, Fredrick Engonda -Ntende, Hellen Obura and Ezekiel Muhanguzi.
The justices have contended that for parliament to pass the Tobacco Control Bill and to enact it into Law, Government was dispensing its duty to protect its illiterate citizens , none-consumers of Tobacco, children and other unsuspecting members of the public who may not be informed of the dangers of Tobacco smoking yet they are entitled to a clean and healthy environment by providing clean air that is free from Tobacco.
The Tobacco Control Act prohibits smoking in public places like bars, cinemas, workplaces and means of transport.
In their lengthy judgment read to court by Justice Kenneth Kakuru, the justices noted that the requirement by Tobacco companies to display a graphic Health warning message covering 65% of the cigarette packet is justified having been adopted by now more than 43 countries as a measure to protect children and illiterate consumers who may not know that Tobacco smoking is linked to almost 14 cancers, premature births, strokes, heart attacks and impotence.
While dismissing the two years petition against Government and a health non-profit organisation Centre for Health, Human rights and Development (CEHURD), the justices ruled that they have not found any constitutional issues for interpretation rather than BAT dragging court into a Tobacco acceptance debate yet the company also concedes that when it’s Tabaco products are used rightly, they cause advance Health risks and eventual death.
They have hence awarded costs to the respondents for having shouldered the burden to defend this petition being one of the numerous cases filed by Tobacco companies in the region in order to defeat tobacco legislation and to enlarge their trade.
However, the ruling comes in when BAT has convoluted up business in Uganda to concentrate in neighbouring Kenya.
The government insists that the requirement to exhibit health messages that occupy no less than 65 per cent on the cigarette packet is intended to communicate the harmful effects of tobacco use to all including the illiterate and children.