Uganda’s First Adult Tobacco Survey Shows Peril and Opportunity to Head-off Epidemic

July 07, 2014

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A new survey of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in Uganda (Executive Summary and Fact Sheet) shows that the country still has the opportunity to head off a burgeoning tobacco epidemic – but only if government leaders act fast to implement scientifically proven solutions.

Uganda's first-ever Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), released July 4, 2014 by the country's Ministry of Health, demonstrated both the threat tobacco use poses to the nation’s health and the opportunity for the government to take action.

Key findings include:

  • 5.8 percent of Ugandans currently smoke cigarettes and 7.9 percent use some form of tobacco, including both cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. That means 1.3 million Ugandan adults use some form of tobacco.
  • 62.3 percent of adults who visited bars or nightclubs reported exposure to secondhand smoke, while 20.4 percent who worked indoors reported exposure and 13.1 percent reported exposure at home.
  • Ugandans strongly support effective measures to reduce tobacco use, with about 9 in 10 favoring a law prohibiting all advertisements of tobacco products and an increase in taxes on tobacco products.

Although rates of tobacco use are low compared to most countries, about half of lifetime smokers will die prematurely as a result and many more will suffer from tobacco-related illnesses such as cancer and heart and lung disease.

Those exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 69 that cause cancer. According to public health authorities, secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and respiratory problems, sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, ear infections and more severe asthma attacks in infants and children.

The GATS results come as African nations have been targeted by the tobacco industry as 'growth markets' for their deadly products.

Uganda currently lacks a comprehensive tobacco control law, making it an easy target for tobacco companies. The GATS survey shows the public strongly supports effective action to protect health and save lives. The government should act now to implement these proven measures, including a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, higher taxes on tobacco products and a 100 percent smoke-free law that applies to all workplaces and public places.