Battling Tobacco in Uganda

E-LAW U.S. hosted Ugandan lawyer Phillip Karugaba. E-LAW has been working with Phillip to challenge big tobacco in Uganda. While in Eugene, Phillip was interviewed by The Register-Guard.

Ugandan Visits to Battle Tobacco
Simone Ripke, The Register-Guard

Eugene, Oregon, January 12, 2001 -- Phillip Karugaba has traveled halfway around the world in his effort to keep his countrymen from lighting up.

The Ugandan lawyer`s work brought him to Eugene on Wednesday and Thursday as he met with lawyers and scientists at the Eugene-based Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide. The group is helping Karugaba, who is struggling to pass public health legislation in Uganda and also is gathering research for a case against a tobacco company.

The case involves a Ugandan with smoking-related health problems, and Karugaba said he is helping a fellow lawyer build a case against British American Tobacco, which owns Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp. in the United States.

But his trip to Eugene also serves a greater purpose.

Karugaba said his goal is to introduce legislation in Uganda to include health warning labels on cigarette packs, ban smoking in public buildings and restaurants and restrict advertising, which he says targets youths.

But changing law doesn`t happen overnight.

"Before we can go getting those things into place, we need to get local statistics to show how tobacco is affecting the health of Ugandans," Karugaba said.

According to E-LAW, the world death toll from tobacco consumption is estimated to nearly triple in the next 20 years. Almost the entire annual increase during that period is projected to occur in developing countries such as Uganda.

Currently there are no statistics about smoking in Uganda, leaving Karugaba and his team with a tedious task.

"For this year, our strategy is to get local research on prevalence and disease incidents," he said. "We`ve got a group of doctors and scientists who help us with that."

That`s where E-LAW comes into the picture.

A nonprofit group with a network of more than 200 public interest lawyers and scientists in 60 countries, E-LAW has been working with Karugaba and other Ugandan lawyers on representing cigarette smokers. The group, which has been in the United States since 1991, provides a free research network to public service lawyers working on environmental, human rights and public health cases. E-LAW`s staff has been providing information about tobacco litigation and legal strategies that have proven successful in the United States and might come in handy when Karugaba goes to court. "Phillip originally was just a lawyer, sitting in Uganda, searching the Web,"
E-LAW staff attorney Jennifer Gleason said.

His search led him to E-LAW, which helped him build a research network of lawyers, scientists and researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom and Uganda.

In a country where AIDS and malaria are highly visible diseases, Karugaba said getting people to consider the long-term effects of smoking cigarettes is an uphill battle.

"Those diseases are more apparent," he said. "That`s what we`re seeing right now, whereas tobacco-related diseases take a long time."

Karugaba said smoking is a popular habit among Ugandans, but E-LAW communications director Maggie Keenan said the industry has much room for growth.

"My observation is that cigarettes haven`t totally taken hold yet and that`s why it`s such a rich market," she said.

Karugaba says his efforts also will have to overcome an economic obstacle - the tobacco industry provides about 600,000 jobs to Uganda`s population of 21 million."