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WHO seeks total ban on public smoking in Africa

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti says tobacco use among young people in the African region, aged 13 to 15 years is about seven million.

Moeti said this in her message to commemorate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on Friday, May 31.

She stressed that young people are exposed to tobacco products through extensive social media, streaming platform campaigns, and social media influencers.

Moeti said, “This day provides us the opportunity to continue highlighting the dangers associated with tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke.

“Today, we reflect on our progress in tobacco control while recognizing the challenges in our efforts to stop the tactics employed by the tobacco industry to frustrate tobacco control efforts.

“By this theme, young people across the world have a platform to call out for the tobacco industry to stop targeting them with products that are harmful to their health.”

According to her more than 37 million young people aged between 13 and 15 years are using tobacco globally.

“In the African Region, tobacco use among young people aged 13 to 15 years is at 11.1 per cent for boys and 7.2 per cent for girls, which is about seven million tobacco users.

“An estimated 1.3 million people die from second-hand smoke every 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,” she said.

The Regional Director noted that the organisation supports member states to sustain a consistent momentum in tobacco control by pushing for robust tobacco regulations, and stringent controls on marketing strategies for new and emerging tobacco and nicotine products which are often designed to attract young people.

“Due to our efforts, 45 countries in the African region have ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and 22 have ratified the protocol to eliminate illicit trade in tobacco products. Twenty-two countries have adopted new tobacco control laws that have enabled them to implement the provisions of the tobacco control framework effectively.

“These national legislations have resulted in accelerated implementation of the WHO FCTC in more than 35 countries and contributed significantly to the downward trends in the prevalence of tobacco use in the region,” she added.

She, however, said 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, and 22 countries in the African region are on track to achieve a 30 per cent reduction by the year 2025 relative to 2010 rates.

She highlighted that the tobacco industry spends considerable time and funds promoting misleading science, lobbying, and performing so-called corporate social responsibility activities as tactics to attract young people and to influence policies to favour its commercial interests over public health.

“This shows that more efforts are still needed to stop the tobacco industry’s relentless efforts to market its products to young people. As WHO, we continue working closely with governments to address the barriers to effective response and speed up the momentum to protect Africa’s young people from tobacco use.

“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 the tobacco-control policy from tobacco industry interference; countering tobacco industry tactics through evidence-based arguments and best practices with full involvement of civil society organisations.

“Raising awareness among the public on the tactics of the tobacco industry; and exposing industry efforts to target youth and attract generations of people with addiction through innovative approaches, including marketing new and emerging products and using flavours.”

She added, “As an organisation, we encourage countries to accelerate their implementation of the WHO FCTC with stringent measures on marketing new and emerging tobacco and nicotine products, particularly designed to appeal to youth. These include shisha, e-cigarettes (flavoured products), nicotine pouches, and others that are aggressively promoted through social media platforms.

“Countries should implement and enforce a 100 per cent ban on public smoking and the use of electronic cigarettes (vaping), apply excise tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption, and implement effective measures to communicate health risks through graphic health warnings to populations, including children and youth.”

The annual WNTD campaign is to raise awareness of the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use. The theme for this year is, “Protecting children from tobacco industry interference.”

The theme is aimed at mobilising international efforts to shield young people from harmful tobacco and nicotine products and the deceptive strategies often used by the tobacco industry to market their products.

The article was originally published on Politics Nigeria.

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