Smoking Clouds Africa’s Future

Warning: This Area Contains Tobacco Smoke

Warning: This Area Contains Tobacco Smoke (Photo credit: tbone_sandwich)

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | December 28, 2013

IT’S not often that you hear of smoking and its attendant health problems in Africa. After all, the continent has humongous and more immediate problems to deal with that smoking pales in significance. But the specter of public health challenges that are likely to be caused by an ever growing epidemic of smoking in Africa are worrisome to say the least. Africans can only ignore the smoking scourge at their own peril: tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of health care and hinder economic development.

Because there is a lag of several years between when people start using tobacco and when their health suffers, African governments may find it convenient to ignore the problem. Cash outs from tobacco companies may also prevent action but the price to be paid will be huge as more Africans take up smoking.

There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world today with that number expected to increase to 1.6 billion by the year 2025. Tobacco use is expected to claim one billion lives this century unless serious anti-smoking efforts are made on a global level.

According to a new study by the American Cancer Society report titled, Tobacco Use in Africa: Tobacco Control Through Prevention, Africa is likely to be a future epicenter of a tobacco epidemic if current trends continue.

While many African countries have low smoking prevalence, the American Cancer Society forecasts a significant increase in the near future. According the report, the number of adult smokers in Africa is expected to balloon from 77 million to 572 million smokers by 2100 if new policies are not implemented and enforced to stem the epidemic.

As economies and populations grow, Africa will provide a lucrative market for tobacco companies, raising fears of a spike in smoking related problems. The report projects that by 2060, Africa will have the second most smokers of any region, behind Asia, with 14 per cent of the world’s smokers (from the current 6 per cent), and by 2100 Africa will be home to 21 per cent of the world’s smokers.

“Not only is significant market scope brought about by population growth and a low base of smoking prevalence, but also through the potential for increased sales to current smokers. As economies and incomes grow, and as cigarette and tobacco markets in Africa develop and mature, so will smoking intensity, thereby increasing the value of the market dramatically,” states the report, adding that without action, Africa will grow from being the fly on the wall, to the elephant in the room of tobacco health problems.

In Africa, the benefits of the prevention strategy in terms of public health seem smaller at first due to the current lower smoking prevalence, but they will skyrocket in the near future due to population growth and the projected number of smokers in the long run, states the report.

“Africa is on a trajectory of needless tobacco-related death and disease,” said John R. Seffrin, Chief Executive Officer of the American Cancer Society. “But there is a clear opportunity to curb and prevent tobacco use and save millions of lives with a combination of targeted prevention and intervention policies. With appropriate intervention, we could avert an estimated 139 million premature deaths from smoking. The charge is clear.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing nearly six million people a year. More than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Approximately one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco, accounting for one in 10 adult deaths.

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