Africa may experience increase in tobacco use, WHO warns

By Hassan Zaggi

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that Africa may experience increase in the rate of tobacco use in the days ahead for two reasons.

One of the reasons is the likely improvement of the  consumer purchasing power; and, secondly, the intensive efforts by the tobacco industry to expand the African market

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who made the revelation in a statement to mark the year 2021 World No Tobacco day, said that more than 75 million people in the African Region use some form of tobacco.

He, however, noted that of the 1.3 billion tobacco users globally, 60% have expressed the desire to quit but only 30% have access to the tools to do so successfully.

The WHO regional Representative therefore, called onpublic health advocates to  actively pursue counter-marketing campaigns that highlight the many risks of tobacco use.

According to him: “As WHO, we are supporting countries to scale-up programmes to help people quit tobacco, especially at the primary health care and community levels. So far support to quit is available in primary health care facilities in 11 countries and in Angola, Botswana and Zambia these services are offered at no cost to consumers. National toll-free lines where tobacco users can call and get advice are available in six countries.

“Nicotine replacement therapy is sold in pharmacies in 19 countries with governments fully covering the costs in Eswatini, Mauritius and Seychelles.

“Nicotine replacement therapy is included in the essential medicines list in Algeria, Ethiopia and South Africa. Burkina Faso is implementing “mTobaccoCessation,” a mobile text messaging-based solution. “

This promising progress, he said, “now needs to be expanded to more countries in the WHO African Region. Governments and communities should also be alert to industry tactics to attract new users and keep people using tobacco, even when they are trying to quit.

“Products such as electronic cigarettes and nicotine pouches are highly addictive and not recommended as strategies to reduce tobacco use.”

Moeti, however, assured that WHO remains committed to supporting Member States to meet their obligations under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. “These include the development and implementation of programmes to promote quitting tobacco in schools, universities, health facilities, workplaces and sporting environments.

“Services to diagnose tobacco dependence and help people quit, should be included as an integral component in national health and education programmes, plans and strategies,” he said.  

The WHO therefore, called on governments to improve access to the services, using a combination of approaches, such as toll-free quit lines, nicotine replacement therapy (such as gum, patches, sprays and other products), and digital solutions to empower people to quit.

“These interventions can be phased in where resources are limited,” he stressed.  

He called on countries to jointly support people with the tools and resources needed to successfully quit and to reduce the demand for tobacco.

This, according to him, will save lives, save money and create healthier societies. 

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