Tobacco use wanes in West, grows in Africa

Research is pointing to growing tobacco use in Africa while the reverse is true elsewhere. This is as worrying as it’s perplexing, considering the sustained anti-tobacco use campaigns carried out on the continent by lobbies.

In a University of Chicago report, researchers who created a Tobacco Atlas after surveying 63 countries say there are more than a billion smokers. And while global smoking prevalence is dropping—from 22.6 per cent in 2007 to 19.6 in 2019—Africa and other developing parts of the world are recording increased tobacco consumption, the report says.

The Kenyan scenario is encouraging, for now, as the government continues to employ one of the most effective tactics to bring down tobacco consumption. This is through unrelenting incremental taxes, which make tobacco products inaccessible to children. One of the most immediate benefits of such a move is elimination of the greater health cost burden from increased cigarette smoking.

This implies that families or individuals who would ordinarily spend a lot in hospital trying to deal with the effects of tobacco use can channel the money to more productive areas. As a global anti-tobacco lobby grows amid concerns of unceasing tobacco-related deaths, scientists are focusing on tobacco consumption and its impact on public health and national economies. African healthcare systems are still struggling following the Covid-19 pandemic onslaught, and to imagine that tobacco use presents another long-lasting challenge is scary.

Expected to increase
The Tobacco Atlas researchers say tobacco-related diseases are expected to increase in future years in countries with low Human Development Index scores. This calls for urgent review of anti-tobacco regulation and legislation in Africa to reverse the unfolding and anticipated health calamity.

Prof Jeffrey Dope, lead author of Tobacco Atlas and professor of public health at the University of Illinois, observed that some African countries are seeing an increase in adult and youth smoking. He added that what has been observed in Africa is the slowest decline in smoking prevalence anywhere.

Whilst there’s a lot to be done by those engaged in anti-tobacco consumption and growing, it is clear that the industry is also stepping up its covert interference activities. It goes without saying that there’s an unseen ‘Big Tobacco’ hand in the goings-on and, without urgent measures to counter these manoeuvres, Africa stares at another medical catastrophe of monumental proportions in the near future.

Children are not being spared this ruthless onslaught by the tobacco industry. On the internet, they are being enticed to try smoking, especially through flavoured products. The World Health Organization (WHO) blames tobacco for over eight million deaths annually. More than “seven million of those deaths result from direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke”.