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.

In Zimbabwe and Africa Cigarette Smoking Grows Despite Health Dangers

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | iZiviso Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – A man slowly crosses a busy street in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, puffing away at a cigarette, and then nonchalantly flicks the cigarette butt onto the tarmac.

The butt rolls away to the edge of the tarmac as the man gets swallowed by the crowd, a trail of smoke hovering behind his head.

In Zimbabwe, as in many parts of Africa, cigarette smoking is growing. According to experts, Africa is expected to double its tobacco consumption in 9 years if current trends continue. The surge in smoking is seen in young people under the age of 20 that constitute the majority of the continents population.

Zimbabwe – as one of the world leading producers of tobacco – has been more focused on te dollar sign over and above the negative consequences of smoking to te public. The government has been reluctant to put in place anti-smoking legislation. Tobacco has long figured prominently in the Zimbabwean economy – tobacco exports bring in a significant share of the country’s export earnings.

Cigarettes can be found everywhere – at street corners and in shops – at ridiculously cheap prices. Alex Madziro lives in Harare. He smokes an average of ten cigarettes a day. He says he has tried to quit but without success. “I just buy single cigarettes at street corners; it helps me to keep the habit in ccheck. I wish I could quit but it’s now very difficult,” he said in an interview. Cigarette companies can still advertise in the media. While the adverts contain health warnings, these have not been sufficient to stem smoking in the country. To put it bluntly, none of the adverts make note of the fact that smoking harms nearly every organ of the body.

According to a 2008 World Health Organization (WHO) survey, twenty-one percent of men in Zimbabwe smoke cigarettes.Across Africa, it is estimated men constitute of 70-85 percent of smokers. For many, smoking starts at a young age. It starts with peer pressure, being exposed to second hand smoking, having parents and best friends who smoke. While it’s almost taboo for women to smoke, the habit is slowly picking up among young women who regard it as a fashion statement.

Globally, tobacco kills more than 14,000 people each day – nearly 6 million people each year. Included in this death toll are some 600,000 non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. In 2004, children accounted for 31% of these deaths. Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke. There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful, and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.

Without urgent action, deaths from tobacco could reach 8 million by 2030. 63% of all deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases, for which tobacco use is one of the greatest risk factors. A jarring statistic is that around half of all smokers alive today will be killed by tobacco. Tobacco is the single most preventable cause of death in the world today.

On the streets of Harare, smoking continues unabated: how much it is a public health problem is yet to be known. In fact, it is regarded low in the priority of public health issues affecting the country today. The death rate from smoking in Africa where treatment options are absent is high but smoking is not a priority in African public health strategies.

“Tobacco is way down in the public health concerns we have. There is malaria, malnutrition, HIV-AIDS, and tuberculosis. So, tobacco comes as something we know to be harmful, but we are not ready to handle at this time because of the limited resources that are available,” Dr Adamson Muula, a senior lecturer of public health at the University of Malawi was quoted by Voice of America in an interview on the ravages of smoking in Africa.

Just like Zimbabwe, very few countries in Africa have tobacco control acts to protect citizens from adverse effects of smoking, second hand smoking and the rate of new addictions.