WHO tasks African countries on tobacco control

Rafat Salami

The World Health Organization WHO has asked African countries to fully implement its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) including raising tobacco taxes to reduce demand for tobacco.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti the Regional Director for the WHO Regional Office for Africa, in a statement to commemorate World No Tobacco Day, said revenue generated for governments from raising tobacco taxes, can be used to finance universal health coverage, health promotion as well as other development programmes.

Dr Moeti said tobacco was costing “Africa 3.5% of health expenditure every year as it brings suffering, diseases and premature death and impoverishes families.”

He also blamed tobacco for worsening health inequalities and exacerbating poverty ‘as the poorest people spend less on essentials such as food, education and health care…as it is also increasingly targeting women and girls.”

“In addition, growing tobacco diverts agricultural land that could otherwise be used for food, impacting on food insecurity and under-nutrition. The top five tobacco leaf-producing countries in the African Region suffer from undernourishment, and tobacco cultivation co-exists alongside undernourishment rates that range from 20% to 43%”, he said

In the statement, he said “in the African Region, about 146 000 adults aged 30 years and above die every year from tobacco-related diseases.”

He said tobacco use one of the leading preventable risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as “cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic lung diseases and diabetes” and “it is a threat to any person, regardless of gender, age, race, cultural or educational background”.

Dr Moeti said tobacco control can break the cycle of poverty, contribute to ending hunger, promote sustainable agriculture and economic growth, and combat climate change.

“Let us all support tobacco control to save lives, uplift development and reduce health inequalities”, he appealed.

WHO’s report on the impact of tobacco

Tobacco scars the environment

The first-ever WHO report, Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview, also shows the impact of this product on nature, including:

  • Tobacco waste contains over 7000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens.
  • Tobacco smoke emissions contribute thousands of tons of human carcinogens, toxicants, and greenhouse gases to the environment. And tobacco waste is the largest type of litter by count globally.
  • Up to 10 billion of the 15 billion cigarettes sold daily are disposed in the environment.
  • Cigarette butts account for 30–40% of all items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups.

Tobacco threatens women, children, and livelihoods

Tobacco threatens all people, and national and regional development, in many ways, including:

  • Poverty: Around 860 million adult smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. Many studies have shown that in the poorest households, spending on tobacco products often represents more than 10% of total household expenditure – meaning less money for food, education and healthcare.
  • Children and education: Tobacco farming stops children attending school. 10%–14% of children from tobacco-growing families miss class because of working in tobacco fields.
  • Women: 60%–70% of tobacco farm workers are women, putting them in close contact with often hazardous chemicals.
  • Health: Tobacco contributes to 16% of all noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) deaths.

The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “Tobacco – a threat to development.