MUSCAT –  Oman uses around 600 hectares of land to produce 500-600 tonnes of tobacco every year, but this may soon change with a comprehensive legislation on tobacco control that may be placed before the Cabinet for approval in about six months.

The National Tobacco Control Committee (NTCC) held a meeting last week in Muscat where the finer aspects of the new comprehensive legislation on tobacco control were discussed, according to Dr Jawad al Lawati, director, department of non-communicable diseases, Ministry of Health, and a member of the committee.

“It is going to be one big all-encompassing law that will control all aspects of tobacco use and control,” Dr Lawati said. “For example, different governorates have different policies regarding smoking indoors, but with the new law the whole country will be governed by just one legislation.”

Dr Lawati added that the proposed legislation would impose a ban on tobacco farming in the next five years. “The tobacco produced in the country currently is worth RO2.5mn. Even though the farmers get no support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, it is thriving. But MoAF has started educating the farmers on the ill-effects [of tobacco] and motivating them to grow alternative crops.”

He added that illicit trade in tobacco products is on the increase; law enforcing authorities are increasingly apprehending and seizing offenders and consignments. “Police says that illicit trade, mainly in chewing tobacco, is on the rise and consumer protection authorities have been seizing consignments of chewing tobacco more often.”

Dr Lawati also attributed the illicit trade to the ban in the country on using chewing tobacco.

 “I am not in favour of banning one form of tobacco and allowing another to be used freely. Both chewing and smoking of tobacco is harmful for health, one results in mouth and neck tumour and the other in lung tumours and heart diseases.”

Another reason could be profits, he said. “It is becoming more profitable to deal in tobacco rather than drugs, as dealing in drugs is considered a crime in most countries which incurs heavy penalties and jail terms.”

Oman is in the process of signing the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, a new international treaty under WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The protocol was adopted in November 2012 by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the WHO FCTC at its fifth session in Seoul, South Korea.

Dr Lawati said that Oman wants to be a signatory to the protocol. He added that the move has been approved by all concerned ministries and it is currently awaiting the final approval of the Ministry of Legal Affairs. “Once they give the green signal, it will be sent to the Cabinet, who will commission the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the final signing,” he said.

Illicit business

World Customs Organisation reports that 1.9bn illicit cigarettes were seized in 2011, across 64 member states.

According to studies, around nine to 11 per cent of the global cigarette market is illicit. The percentage is significantly higher in low and middle income countries, reaching 50 per cent or more. Estimates show if illicit trade were eliminated globally, governments would gain at least US$30bn annually in tax revenue.

source: muscat daily