Few bright spots in Africa’s struggle against the tobacco epidemic

11 Dec 2012

Africa is at the epicenter of a global effort to stem an impending health crisis. An estimated 100 million people died in the 20th century from tobacco use. Unless drastic action is taken, the World Health Organization forecasts that number to increase to 1 billion in the 21st century. As developed countries were successful in reducing tobacco consumption over the last 50 years, the multinational tobacco industry has increasingly targeted the developing world. Eighty percent of tobacco deaths this century will occur in the global south.

“With some of the world’s poorest consumers, Africa was not on the top of Big Tobacco’s agenda in the 1990s when it began targeting the developing world,” said Dr. Ebeh Kodjo Fabrice, Executive Secretary of the Africa Tobacco Control Alliance. “This has changed in the past 10 years. We have a choice – prevent addiction now, or deal with the massive health, economic and development consequences later”.

Relative to other regions, Africa’s smoking rate is relatively low, allowing governments to take action before the brunt of the epidemic is felt. But the tobacco industry sees the same prevalence numbers and draws a different conclusion – huge potential for profit growth. Using marketing techniques that would be unacceptable in many other parts of the world, Big Tobacco has launched campaigns to make smoking in Africa as normal as it was in Europe in the 1960s.

Tobacco Watch: Africa looks at a number of key obligations that governments have as Parties to the FCTC, including advertising restrictions, smoke-free public places, warning labels, taxation and industry interference in public policy. In addition to tracking legislation, data gatherers looked at compliance and enforcement at the local level, observing and photographing violations.

The report demonstrates that a few governments have taken the tobacco threat and their obligations under the FCTC very seriously, including Kenya, Mauritius, Seychelles and South Africa. However, the vast majority of Africans remain unprotected from a product that, when used exactly as intended, will kill half of its customers.

“We need to do much, much more to counter the industry’s strategy,” said Dr. Ebeh. “This is an obligation and a promise to our children and grandchildren”.

Tobacco Watch is a key component of a civil society shadow reporting mechanism to support implementation of the FCTC, and is run by the Framework Convention Alliance, a coalition of over 350 organizations from over 100 countries, including ATCC.

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