Africa Faces Explosive Growth in Tobacco Use
But report says anti-smoking initiatives could prevent a cancer "pandemic"
Steeply rising smoking rates mean Africa may be doomed to the sharp jump in cases of cancer and respiratory disease seen on other continents — unless more is done now to protect its people from tobacco, experts say.
"For the first time in history, we have the tools in hand to prevent a pandemic," said Dr. Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer at the American Cancer Society (ACS). “Recent data suggests that, with current trends, more than half of the region of Africa will double its tobacco consumption within 12 years.”
A recent joint report from the ACS and the Global Smokefree Partnership estimates that Africa is set to experience the highest rate of increase in tobacco use in the developing world, and yet 90 percent of its people lack meaningful protection from second-hand smoke.
Many Africans also lack essential knowledge about smoking's dangers: in Abuja, Nigeria, 55 percent of schoolchildren are unaware that second-hand smoke can harm their health, the report notes.
However, according to the report, Global Voices:Rebutting the Tobacco Industry, Winning Smokefree Air, there are some spots of hope dotted across the continent:
- Since 2008, Kenya has enacted smoke-free laws covering workplaces and public places, although the laws still allow for Designated Smoking Rooms, which experts say undermine smoke-free laws.
- Niger put smoke-free laws in place 2006, but the legislation initially failed due to lack of enforcement, the report found. Since then, various Non- Government Organizations have helped strengthen the laws, which are now "working well in most places," the report found.
- In 2009, the island nation of Mauritius implemented high tobacco taxes and tough smoke-free regulations, driving down smoking rates without hurting tourist revenue, a major source of income.
Of course the tobacco industry has fought measures like these, launching expensive court challenges in Kenya, for example, using its political clout to weaken government anti-smoking initiatives in Zambia, and spreading the notion elsewhere that curbs on tobacco will cost jobs. "The influence of the tobacco industry must be recognized," the report notes, "particularly in countries that grow tobacco."
Still, the example of South Africa - which enacted smoke-free laws in 2007 - shows that strong, consistent anti-smoking efforts can pay off. According to the ACS, in South Africa, "tobacco consumption has fallen by one-third since 1993, when aggressive increases in cigarettes taxes began to take hold."
Compared to more affluent regions, cigarettes remain cheap in much of Africa, which points the way to part of the solution. According to Thomas Glynn of the Global Smokefree Partnership, "we have very good economic data showing that if you do raise the price of cigarettes through taxes people will smoke less."