The Anti-Tobacco Network (ATN) Botswana seeks to commend the National COVID-19 Task Team under the umbrella of the Multi-Disciplinary Presidential Coordination COVID-19 Task Team; (COVID-19 PCTT) led by H.E. the President of the Republic of Botswana, on its decisive, science informed, evidence-based and principled stance to adopt a holistic approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Task Team’s unflinching objectivity in recommending the prohibition of tobacco and tobacco related product sales and imports has cemented its credibility in prioritising and advancing public health interests over those of a shameless industry that grows its wealth at the expense of the health and wellbeing of people who become addicted to tobacco.

The ATN urges the Government of Botswana and the National COVID-19 task team to maintain its focus on driving a holistic national pandemic response, which seeks to eliminate the risks to public health and promote the sustainable wellbeing and livelihood of the country’s threatened population. The tobacco industry is unscrupulous and nefarious in its appetite to devour the country’s vulnerable youthful population and luring them to harm’s way. Therefore the Government and the National COVID-19 task team must not let down the guard but remain forever vigilant in the face of an industry that has mastered the art of deception and manipulation.

The unassailable and uncontested scientific truth is: “Tobacco has no public health benefits and no sustainable economic benefits for those addicted to the substance; for family livelihood; community wellbeing; or for the national treasury. The country must accordingly act to protect its people and never waiver in its determination to deploy its regulatory prerogative to ensure that the sale and importation of tobacco remain haulted during the state of public emmergency. Even after the marouding COVID-19 pandemic, the country must never allow the industry to dictate public policy on public health, but stick to the moral highground of not intertaining the industry’s antics.

The COVID-19 is a fast-paced global pandemic that has ravaged nations across geographical, economic, social, cultural, religious and political boundaries without any known cure or protection save for people to stay at their homes, maintain physical distancing and wash hands thoroughly. Advancing any existing or emerging myths that are not scientifically proven should be treated as a heinous crime.

Tobacco companies as well as tobacco and e-cigarette industry associations are shamefully exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to boost corporate brands and to sell deadly products. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which Botswana is a Party to, requires strict monitoring of the tobacco industry because of tobacco’s adverse impacts on health, environment and economy. Further, the WHO FCTC is now embedded in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), enshrining the tenet that good governance in public health involves treating tobacco companies differently from the rest of industry.

There is unequivocal scientific evidence that smoking (cigarettes, hubbly bubbly/shisha or e-cigarettes) damages many body organs including the lungs. Smoking also destroys the immune system hence weakening a smoker’s responsiveness to infections. This not only makes smokers more vulnerable to corona virus infections but also predisposed to developing severe respiratory distress as they have compromised lung functions. This in itself strongly justifies the restriction in the importation and sale of tobacco products during the current public health emergency, as these would compromise our war against the corona virus that is causing COVID-19.

There is also compelling evidence from previous studies that smokers are twice more likely than non-smokers to have more severe symptoms as COVID-19 is a lung infection that aggressively attacks the lungs, leaving lung cells dead. To date deaths and serious illness from COVID-19 appear to be concentrated among those who are older and who have underling chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer and respiratory conditions or compromised lung functions.

The increased risk of severe health outcomes for smokers hospitalized with COVID-19, and the reductions in hospitalizations generally that may result from quitting smoking, call for an even added urgency during this pandemic to sustain the current ban on tobacco and related substance sales in order to relieve the strained health services. It is worth to note that the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to encourage the world’s smokers to quit smoking outright, including quitting cold turkey. The tobacco industry is hell-bound to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to obscure the links between tobacco and COVID-19.

Be warned: The tobacco industry will continue to undermine the credibility and ability of the national public health system to adopt a truly holistic approach to counter COVID-19 by presenting its poisoned chalice as alternative solutions to the reality of the pandemic. In line with the spirit of the WHO FCTC, the Government and the National COVID-19 Task Team should resist the bait of partnering with or receiving donations from the Tobacco Industry under the guise of so-called “corporate social responsibility,” and/or promoting the use of vaping products and heated tobacco as a solution to quitting tobacco use.

Finally, ATN Botswana calls upon men and women in the professions and /or institutions constituting the esteemed estates of our democratic governance architecture to self-evaluate and take sides with the forces for public health against those for public harm. The ATN and its national, regional and global partners, remain committed to the resolve to stay side by side with the Government to flatten the COVID-19 curve and hence save lives. Should the National COVID-19 Task Team need any assistance we remain available to provide our services in terms of raising the level of awareness on tobacco and COVID-19 and assisting smokers to quit. Once again we applaud you for the good job and wish you the best.


Anti Tobacco Network