On December 30, 2016, the President of the Gambia assented to the tobacco control bill that was passed by the National Assembly on December 20, 2016. CTCA would like to join other partners to congratulate the government of the Gambia and all the tobacco control actors upon the attainment of yet another milestone on the continent. As a Centre, we are proud to associate with this success story of the Gambia.
One of CTCA’s outcomes is increased adoption of Policies and Laws compliant with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). To this end, CTCA supports countries to enact comprehensive legislations compliant with the FCTC. The Gambia is one of those countries where CTCA has supported the legislative process.
The Gambia Tobacco Control Act 2016; is very comprehensive. It essentially provides for 100% smoke free environments by prohibiting the consumption of tobacco within 100 meters of a public place. As a strong deterrent to initiation by young people as well as supporting users to quit, the law requires the manufacturers, distributors, or retailers of tobacco products to ensure that Pictorial Health Warnings occupy 75% of the Principal Display Area of any tobacco packaging. The law also provides for strong deterrent measures to be put in place for purposes of enforcement. For instance the fine for not displaying a ‘no smoking signage’ is not less than 65$, depending on the nature of the premises where the infringement has been committed.
CTCA’s role in the bill enactment process in the Gambia
The TC Bill enactment process in most countries takes some time, and requires a lot of advocacy and engagements at multiple levels, as well as guarding against possible tobacco industry interference.
By March 2015, the Gambia had a draft bill that needed to be finalized and made more comprehensive. CTCA therefore convened a meeting for a multi-sectoral Working Group (MSWG) to finalize the Bill that was submitted to the Ministry of Justice for submission to the National Assembly. That meeting was attended by a core team of officials from the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare, Justice, Interior, CSOS, Parliamentary staff, while WHO country office provided the technical support.
The tabling of the Bill however did not take place immediately as had been anticipated. Various engagements had to take place to facilitate the process;
Orientation of Members of the National Assembly: In March 2016, CTCA supported the orientation of the members of the National Assembly to sensitize them on the draft bill and gunner their support for the same. The orientation meeting of the MPs was attended by over 25 legislators led by the Speaker. Hon. Abdoulie Bojang. The legislators, many of whom were ex-smokers, expressed their commitment to passing the bill, a pledge they fulfilled on December 20, 2016, when they overwhelmingly passed the TC Bill.
Identification of TC Champions within Parliament: One of the key outcomes of the orientation meeting with the legislators was the identification of TC Champions within Parliament. These were provided with the necessary information resources to empower them to effectively defend the Bill. Drawing from CTCA’s experience with the Uganda Bill, CTCA found it necessary to strategically work with these champions to establish a National Assembly Forum on NCDs to broaden the level of advocacy within Parliament. A consultative meeting for the establishment of the National Assembly Forum was therefore held with the National TC Multi-sectoral Committee to devise a strategy for establishing and sustaining the Forum. A task Force was instituted for this purpose and had started its work by the time of the passing of the Bill.
Orientation of Government Technocrats and TC stakeholders on Article 5.3 of the FCTC: A comprehensive orientation of the members of the National TC Multi-sectoral Committee was carried out in October 2016 to insulate them against tobacco industry interference during the bill enactment process as well as implementation. The process of drafting the code of conduct for government technocrats was also initiated.
Training of the Media: CTCA supported a training of media practitioners to equip them with the necessary knowledge and information about the dangers of tobacco and the urgent need for the legislation, to combat the effects of tobacco. This resulted into increased media coverage of the TC issues, thus raising awareness and fostering increased demand for a compressive legislation. Tagged to the media orientation was the validation of the Gambia TC Communication Plan that provides a strategic framework and guiding principles for Tobacco Control communication and advocacy.
Advocacy with the Top Management of the Ministry of Health: To further fast track the process, the CTCA team also engaged the Top Management of the Ministry of Health to gunner their support for the bill and ensure that it is tabled in Parliament at the earliest opportunity. Among those CTCA met was the Health Minister Hon. Omar Sey and the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health. They both re-affirmed their commitment to the Bill process and assured CTCA that the Bill will be tabled before the end of that year. At that time, the Bill had been approved by the sub- cabinet and the president had given a directive to gazette it immediately and ensure that it is tabled before the National Assembly. That called for tight marking and commitment to fast track the bill so eliminate tobacco industry interference and ensure that the momentum created was not lost.
True to their word, the bill was tabled in the National Assembly which overwhelmingly passed it into law on December 20, 2016. This was followed by the presidential assent on December 30, 2016.
Accordingly, CTCA would like to applaud the utmost effort of the Gambian Government and pledge her unwavering support to the implementation of the Act to control the demand and supply of tobacco products in the Gambia.