WHO calls for ban on public smoking in Africa

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Matshidiso Moeti

By Beloved John

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director, Matshidiso Moeti, has called for a complete ban on public smoking and the use of e-cigarettes and vaping in every African country. This was contained in a statement issued by the organisation to mark 2024 World No Tobacco Day, which was themed: “Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference.”

Mrs Moeti said African countries need to implement stringent measures to protect children from the use of tobacco and nicotine products. According to her, the tobacco industry is designing marketing strategies that are targeted at attracting the younger generation to smoking and nicotine addiction. “As tobacco use continues to decline among adults, the tobacco industry has diversified its arsenal to attack and subvert any strong tobacco control efforts and has been trying to grow its portfolio, adding new markets for tobacco and nicotine products. The industry uses marketing strategies for new products specially designed to appeal to youth,” she said.

Some of these products are e-cigarettes, flavoured products, smokeless tobacco, snacks, and pouches. She noted that they are aggressively promoted through social media. “This shows that more efforts are still needed to stop the tobacco industry’s relentless efforts to market its products to young people.” Across the world, there’s an increase in the rate of nicotine intake among young people, according to Mrs Matshidiso.

She said, globally, more than 37 million young people aged between 13 and 15 years use tobacco, while in Africa, about 7 million people aged between 13 and 15 use tobacco. She also noted that an estimated 1.3 million people die from second-hand smoke each year. “These deaths are entirely preventable. People exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke are at risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancers.” Meanwhile, the prevalence of tobacco use among adults in the region has declined from 14.9 per cent in 2010 to 9.5 per cent in 2023. The 2023 WHO Global Report on Trends has shown that 22 countries in the African region are on track to achieve a 30 per cent reduction by the year 2025 relative to 2010 rates. The regional director said: “We know that young people in the region are exposed to tobacco products through extensive social media and streaming platform campaigns, as well as the use of social media influencers to promote tobacco products to the youth covertly. “This poses a significant threat to their health and well-being. We also know that the tobacco industry isn’t just in the business of producing, marketing, and selling tobacco products.

“It also spends considerable time and funds promoting misleading science, lobbying, and performing so-called corporate social responsibility activities. These tactics are meant to attract young people and to influence policies to favour its commercial interests over public health”. As a result, Mrs Moeti urged the countries to accelerate the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), with stringent measures on marketing new and emerging tobacco and nicotine products, particularly designed to appeal to youth.

She asked that countries apply high excise tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption. She also called for the implementation of effective measures to communicate health risks through graphic health warnings to populations, including children and youth. She said: “I urge our member states in the African region to step up their efforts to protect young people from tobacco industry interference by   ensuring governments honour and abide by their obligations under WHO FCTC Article 5.3 by introducing safeguards to protect tobacco-control policy from tobacco industry interference.

“States must counter tobacco industry tactics through evidence-based arguments and best practices with full involvement of civil society organisations. They must raise awareness among the public on the tactics of the tobacco industry and expose industry efforts to target youth and attract generations of people with addiction through innovative approaches, including marketing new and emerging products and using flavours. In an innovative measure to counter increasing tobacco leaf production, WHO and other UN agencies and governments have supported over 5,000 tobacco farmers in Kenya and Zambia to switch to alternative crops. Mrs Moeti explained that African countries need to implement stringent measures to protect children from the use of tobacco and nicotine products.

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