Efforts to reduce tobacco harm in Africa up in smoke

Lack of support, inadequate policies and misinformation have been identified as some of the obstacles standing in the way of the reduction of tobacco harm in Africa as discussed during the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) held in Liverpool, England last week.

Another disturbing finding about tobacco harm states that the continent has about 77 million smokers with at least 250 000 of them dying from smoking-related diseases every year

Joseph Magero, chairman of ‘Campaign for Safer Alternatives Africa’ – a regional organisation that advocates for the adoption of tobacco harm reduction in Africa – says the World Health Organisation (WHO) offers little support.

This, in addition to inadequate polices driven by misinformation, especially on nicotine and harm reduction and the affordability of safer nicotine products is fueling Magero’s frustrations.

He is adamant that policy makers should embrace tobacco harm reduction as a valid goal particularly in low and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Magero discussed ‘Obstacles to tobacco harm reduction in LMICs’ during the eighth edition of GFN. This year’s theme was ‘The future of Nicotine’.

Tobacco: Africa lagging behind

The former director of the Africa Tobacco-Free Initiative, says that studies in most countries have shown that there are three main driving forces behind reduced smoking. They are an increased awareness of the dangers associated with smoking, an increase in the price of cigarettes with taxes included, and finally, the availability of low-risk alternatives.

“In Africa, tobacco use still finds itself within a moral debate. This makes the promotion of needs of people who smoke an uphill task for organisations such as ours,” says Magero, who is originally from Kenya and an ardent tobacco harm reduction advocate with at least a decade’s experience in tobacco control.

“Some sections of society believe that people who smoke are weak and they deserve to be punished”.

Gaping holes in WHO’s support

“The WHO has been strongly supportive of harm reduction in other contexts for example, like the use of condoms to reduce HIV transmission. However, it has been less supportive when it comes to the tobacco harm reduction,” says Magero.

“And most smokers can’t afford WHO-recommended products such as gum and patches which has rendered them somewhat helpless,” he said.

With at least a quarter of a million people succumbing to smoking-related diseases annually, Magero is a worried man.

Tobacco and alarming statistics

“The smoking of cigarettes has increased by about 52% to 250 billion cigarettes between 1980 and 2016. Africa is home to some of the highest numbers on the planet,” says Magero.

“Tunisians for example, are estimated to smoke 4.4 cigarettes per day for each person over the age of 18”.

According to the WHO, tobacco use kills nearly six million people each year with more than 600 000 of them exposed to second-hand smoke. Tobacco control actions aim to substantially and continually reduce the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

Source: Health-e