The Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control

Smoke-free spaces in Africa growing at a snail’s pace

Opinion article by Tih A. Ntiabang

When South African officials slapped a total ban on smoking in all stadiums for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, many of us started hoping against all hope that one day Africa would succeed in its struggle to go smoke-free.

While the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) commits Parties to protect their citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor public places, workplaces and public transport, very few sub-Saharan African countries have enacted stringent policies to do this.

Nonetheless, it is amazing that one can today watch a soccer game in the legendary Kibasa Stadium in Lubumbashi, DR Congo, without exposure to second-hand smoke. This stadium was declared 100 per cent smoke-free earlier this year “thanks to a multi-stakeholder effort and most especially the willingness of the local government of the Katanga province to implement the regulations of the FCTC”, said Mr. Pierrot Yav Tshikumb, the manager of the stadium.

Several kilometres away, the Gbessia International Airport in Conakry, Guinea was recently declared 100 per cent smoke-free. It joins the few other jurisdictions in sub-Saharan Africa that have at least made a step towards ensuring that public places are free from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, though most of these laws don’t comply 100 per cent with FCTC guidelines.

The director of the Lubumbashi International Airport, Mr. Gédeon Mangolopa, said he continues working toward making the airport 100 per cent smoke-free as soon as possible. Unlike previously, there “is now a snitch of time to force our national governments to enact stringent measures aimed at prohibiting smoking in public places”, he said.

It is true that tobacco control advocates in Africa have not been on a fool’s errand in their efforts to see the creation of smoke-free spaces. The results are conspicuous in Djibouti, Kenya, Mauritius, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, etc.

As these countries struggle to create smoke-free spaces, and respect for smoking bans, they should not neglect the opportunity to advance tobacco control by putting in place warning labels on cigarette packages, which “are overwhelmingly supported by the public”, according to the 2011 WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic. The report highlighted that such labels can be implemented at virtually no cost to government.

However, in the face of a relatively weak policy environment, tobacco manufacturers hold most of the aces. The alert is red – we must force governments to recognise that exposure to tobacco smoke causes death, diseases and disability. It contributes to the nearly 6 million deaths caused by tobacco use annually.

Tih A. Ntiabang is Media Advocacy & Communications Coordinator for the Africa Tobacco Control Consortium.

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